I’ll be honest – I love a good mystery. As a kid I loved watching Scooby-Doo and trying to figure out what was going on. Some of my favorite book series were The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I loved BBC’s Sherlock (at least the first two seasons). When I first saw the trailer for the movie and saw the cast list, I knew I had to see it to satiate the mystery fan inside of me. I’m more than happy to report back that Rian Johnson’s star-studded mystery, Knives Out, is charming and filled with great twists and turns.
The film follows Detective Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he helps the local police determine if the death of popular mystery writer, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), was a suicide or something more nefarious.Honestly, what surprised me the most about the movie was how well it balanced humor, mystery, drama, and tension. No element ever feels like it feels out of place. Combined with the beautiful shot composition, the aesthetic and makeup of Thrombey’s house, and a riveting score and you have a formula for success. I laughed out loud more than once with the audience and also had my share of white knuckle moments.
What makes the film more interesting than the traditional mystery plot is the information revealed to the audience. I didn’t expect to get the gleams of info I got, and I was amused with the way the plot’s focus and scope changed. It made the movie more interesting and the way the movie plays with mystery tropes is a delight. There was more than one moment I didn’t see coming and watching all the pieces come together by the end of the movie was great. There are quite a few elements that are set up through the movie and I was thoroughly satisfied with how they were explored by the end of the movie. Pay attention – I promise the payoff is more than worth it.
The acting in this movie is great and there are a few stand-out performances that were really fun to watch. Besides his accent ( which feels deliberately over-the-top), I loved how much Craig owned the screen. He’s confident, witty, and feels charismatic in an endearing way. His ability to go from hard ass to comedic observer helps keep the tone of the movie consistent. Ana de Armas’s performance as Marta is also phenomenal. She plays off Craig well and does great in her own light. Watching her innocent character try and navigate the contours of the Thrombey family was a delight and made me want to cheer her on. Speaking of the Thrombeys, every member of the family feels distinct and the members that get more fleshed out are quite interesting. As someone who loved Toni Collette in Hereditary and The Sixth Sense getting to see her as a liberal lifestyle guru was a treat. The issue with so many characters however, is that a few of them become one note characters that are associated with nothing more than a gag. It’s a shame because there are hints of moments that could be developed with them, but they’re never explored to their full extent.
Although the movie is a fun adventure, it feels lacking thematically. There’s a surface level discussion of politics- immigration in particular- and besides some cyclical gags in relation to it and some minor drama it’s never handled in a way that makes it more meaningful. It’s obvious that the film is a criticism of opulence, but so many of the other elements of the movie are so intelligently written, so the lack of depth feels like a huge missed opportunity. Likewise, there’s this underlying discussion of family and obligation that’s mentioned a lot in the movie, but is really mishandled. In particular, certain character reactions betray where the movie could have gone with this meaning in favor of being more generic. There’s also one glaring character decision that doesn’t make sense in the 3rd act of the movie which is kind of a big deal in how the plot unravels. I might just be nitpicking here but it felt out of place with how well thought out everything else in the plot was.
TLDR: Knives Out is fun and filled with twists and turns. What it lacks in thematic meaning, it makes up in over the top fun and excitement.
Final Rating: 9.2/10. One of the best movies of the year- I’d recommend going with friends. This is more of a communal experience. Mystery fans rejoice! This movie should be a refreshing adventure.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!