Do you ever have that feeling where you are extremely sure of yourself? You know that you’re not the sharpest tool in the shed. But this time, this one time, you are sure of this one thing? And then someone/something comes in the way and completely turns you upside down, but in a good way? Yeah, Knives Out did that to me. I was certain (like so certain that even if someone put a knife to my jugular, I wouldn’t change my opinion) that Archana Atul Phadke’s About Love is going to end up being my favourite movie of this year for a myriad of reasons. Yet here I am sitting, reviewing this delicious murder mystery that I have just watched and wondering if it’s gonna take the #1 spot in my imaginary list. Will it though? Well, keep reading to know.
Knives Out is written and directed by Rian Johnson. The score is by Nathan Johnson, cinematography by Steve Yedlin, editing by Bob Ducsay, production design by David Crank, art direction by Jeremy Woodward, set design by David Schlesinger, and costume design by Jenny Eagan. The cast boasts of the likes of Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Frank Oz, and Noah Segan. The story begins with the apparent murder of a wealthy crime novelist, Harlan Thrombey (Plummer), right after his 85th birthday. That starts an investigation, conducted by Benoit Blanc (Craig), Detective Elliot (Stanfield), and Trooper Wagner (Segan), into the family (and their servants, who they treat like ‘family’), which ruffles the Thrombeys’ feathers, thereby revealing their true colours.
Rian Johnson’s writing is captivating as f*ck and he proves yet again that he’s master of the third act!
I love movies that make me question myself. Initially, it might be a little frustrating because your ego doesn’t let you accept the fact that you’ve been stumped. However, when you think about it, removing your biases out of the equation, you start to relish the genius of the product you’ve been presented. That’s what Johnson did to me with his writing in Knives Out. He kicks off the movie with the murder. He brings in the detectives. He points out the questionable characters in the story. Heck, he even shows the audience the murder (don’t worry, I am not giving away spoilers). So, there I am sitting in the theatre smugly thinking that “well that’s the movie, and I’ve watched enough murder mysteries to know there’s nothing left to surprise me”. And Rian holy-bloody-shit Johnson jumps out of nowhere and bitch-slaps me with the third act (like he has done before in Brick, Looper, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi).
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. Rian Johnson doesn’t pull some crazy deus ex-machinas and plot twists in the third act to create one of the best murder mysteries of all time. That would be stupid, generic and worth nothing. He lays down the groundwork carefully, piece-by-piece, just like the game of Go that Harlan and Marta (Armas) plays. Every single line of dialogue not only reveals something about the character in question, but also how they’re integral to the plot. He plants enough doubt in you about every character that you’d be afraid to trust anyone, thereby putting you in the headspace of the characters. He doesn’t do anything out of the blue and follows every beat to its logical and thematic conclusion. That’s why when all the threads converge into the third act and Johnson goes for the big reveal and pulls the rug from underneath your feet, I am pretty confident that you’ll be as impressed as I am.
But is that all there is to the writing? A murder mystery? Well, of course not. Knives Out doubles as a scathing critique on the class system that is dividing America, and pretty much every other nation in the world. By pitching the uber-honest Marta against the conniving Thrombeys, Johnson delivers a reality check so that we are hyper aware of our privileges going forward. He shows us the weakening effect of being overly dependent on what we’ve inherited and the empowerment that comes with building oneself from scratch. In addition to that, he gives a necessary message about goodness triumphing over every negative notion/person/thought/intention circling around us. Yes, it might feel a little over-optimistic at times. But after looking at the current socio-political scenario, I think it’s necessary to over-cook the positivity factor so that one is compelled to believe that their steps of goodness do matter.
Rian Johnson directs the sh*t out of his own script and will keep you at the edge of your seat even when you’re re-watching Knives Out.
Rian Johnson has already directed some of my favourite movies of all time with Brick and Looper. On top of that, The Last Jedi is my favourite Star Wars movie of all time. Now, all that comes with a huge set of expectations. And trust me when I say this, expectations can make or break a movie. I have seen it happen multiple times over the years and after watching that smashing trailer for the movie, I wasn’t ready for even an inkling of disappointment. By that I mean, if Knives Out was even a 4/5 for me, I would’ve been sad (I know that’s preposterous but it’s the truth). Thankfully, the man didn’t let me down even a tiny bit because of his ability to direct the hell out of his own script.
The movie feels operatic from the first frame itself with the Thrombey mansion front and center and a couple of dogs rushing towards us in slow motion. The camera angles are sharp so that you can feel the claustrophobic nature of households like this, even though they’re taking up a lot of space in the world. Every frame is lit with the right amount of colour, props and actors so that your attention isn’t diverted towards anything that Johnson doesn’t want you to notice yet. However, on the other hand, despite the movie’s over-comedic nature (I say over-comedic because there’s a girl in it who pukes after lying FFS!) he doesn’t show anything that is unrealistic. The best example of that is a car chase that happens in the second act of the movie. In fact, Elliot even calls it the dumbest car chase because the characters think they can outrun police cars in their ordinary car. It’s a little thing but it subverts the expectations that have been created by a lot of crime-thrillers and murder mysteries, thereby keeping you invested in the story.
Knives Out undoubtedly has some of the best editing and scoring throughout the entire movie, especially during the conversational scenes between the detectives and the Thrombeys. Heck, even the interactions amongst the Thrombeys are interesting as hell. But the third act (I know, I know but it is that good of an act) is peak direction, peak editing, peak cinematography, and peak scoring. It feels like you’ve entered a different realm within the boundaries of the Thrombey household; kind of like Blanc’s donut analogy (even though I am still figuring out what it means, you’ll get it when you watch it). And you will experience a panic attack because of the revelations happening before your very eyes and, at the same time be engulfed by a feeling of satisfaction upon seeing every piece of the puzzle fall in the right place. I am aware that’s a confusing place to be but that doesn’t mean it’s not wholesome.
All of the performances are crackling, but it’s Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans (and his sweaters) who steal the spotlight.
I am going to keep this section short and sweet because if I start talking about the performances, I have to explain the context behind it. If I provide context, I will end up revealing major plot details. If I try to refrain from revealing major plot details, my praises for the actors will just sound confusing. So, all I will say is that every single performance in the movie is simply magnetic. Yes, every single performance. But if I have to choose the best ones, it’s undoubtedly going to be Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans. Craig’s mix of dull-witted and smart is lovable. Chris Evans’ mix of smug, arrogant, and elitist is bitter-sweet. Ana de Armas’ mix of vulnerable, clever, and honest will certain melt your cold-ass heart. And when all of it comes together, you’ll be left feeling that the Academy should definitely create a category for Best Performance by an Ensemble Cast just so that everyone in Knives Out can get on that stage and take a bow in unison for what they’ve done in this film.
So, the answer to whether Knives Out is my favourite film is yes, it is my favourite movie yet. I say ‘yet’ because there’s an entire month left and I’ve to go into it completely open-minded. But till then Rian Johnson’s exquisite murder mystery, that just happens to be a healthy addition to the growing roster of films that’s questioning our society’s class divide, is going to stay at the top. And if you’re still thinking whether or not you should watch it, then stop thinking and go and watch it. Get your mind blown and then re-watch it.