I’m (Mostly) All-In on ‘Knives Out’

Knives_Out_posterPut “I read a tweet about a New Yorker article about you” on my gravestone and let me die a happy man.

“Knives Out” is a whodunit mystery that follows a dysfunctional family that comes together following the suicide, or possible murder, of their rich patriarchal father. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the film features an ensemble cast, including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer.

If you don’t know Rian Johnson’s name you surely are familiar with his work as the man who made Bruce Willis fight a younger version of himself (in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in “Looper” annnnnnd the guy who split the Star Wars fanbase in half with “The Last Jedi.” Some looked forward to his saga follow-up with great anticipation, others like myself with mostly indifference, which is par-for-the-course for Johnson, who has openly admitted he sets out to have his films cherished by half the audience and loathed by the other (a feat he certainly accomplished with “The Last Jedi”). Somehow, I don’t think “Knives Out” will have a rapturous divide among those who see it, as it is an overall enjoyable ride with enough quirky characters and humorous moments to offset some suspect writing.

When you get a cast this big, it is inevitable that some of them will be nothing more than extended cameos, but each actor gets a moment to shine. Daniel Craig talks like Colonel Sanders; Toni Callette is a tanning bed Barbie doll straight out of Buzzfeed; Katherine Langford vapes; Chris Evans wears incredible sweaters; each has a distinct moment that makes their characters feel real, if not at least entertaining.

Rian Johnson’s strengths lie mostly with his direction and not his writing (more on that in a second). From a director standpoint, this is a very solid job by Johnson, as he not only keeps the pace moving for most of the film (although at 130 minutes it could’ve used a final fat trimming) and gets fine performances out of his actors. The way Johnson plays with camera angles and moves it around puts us into the frame of minds of the characters, and with Bob Ducsay’s quick editing some scenes truly crackle.

However where Johnson sometimes stumbles are his scripts. Whether it is entirely unnecessary subplots or so many characters that motivations get muddled (problems that are prevalent here and in his previous works), Johnson seems to think his writing is smarter than it actually is. Having any word he types cut out would be a sin, and as we’ve seen with the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Judd Apatow, this can be killer for writer-director’s films.

The film features a few fun twists but I couldn’t help but feel the actual big reveal lost some of its impact because of events that had transpired earlier. I won’t go into spoilers, but I think the film took so many twists and turns that eventually they stopped being twists and had just turned back to a familiar direction.

“Knives Out” is the type of movie that “they just don’t make anymore” (whatever that old and clichéd expression means to you) and for most of the runtime I was really enjoying myself. Toni Callette delivers a handful of wonderfully stupid lines and Chris Evans begins his post-Marvel career with a [bleep]-eating grin, and although the landing could have been stronger, I think this is a mystery worth investigating.

Critics Rating: 8/10


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