Movie Review: Knives Out

Knives Out is a murder mystery in which the patriarch of a family is found dead from an apparent suicide after the night of his 85th birthday party. A detective is called in to investigate the death as there is more than a reasonable doubt that the suicide is actually a murder. Everyone of the family who was at the party is a suspect. All of them have motive to want the old man's fortune for themselves. The film stars Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, LaKeith Stanfield, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, and Christopher Plummer. It is written and directed by Rian Johnson.

I feel I need to see this film nine or ten more times. Not to piece everything together because it is brilliantly summed up with nary a hole, but because I want to see it that many more times to bask in its brilliance. From plot, to acting, to story, stem to stern, top to bottom, Knives Out is a brilliant film that neither holds our hand or expects too much of us. It picks us up when we may have missed something and nudges us when there's something we should see. And there is a lot to see.

The screen is packed with clues, tips of the hat, nods and just utterly gorgeous scenery. This is all thanks to the stellar work by the production design team of David Crank the production designer, Jeremy Woodward the art director and David Schlesinger the set decorator. These men built a world and built a world not only for the characters to inhabit, but for us to parse clues. They turned an eccentric mansion into a funhouse and a visual feast. I wish it was a place I could go because I want to see everything in every room. They make the house its own character.

Every murder mystery has a house with secrets and the house here is no exception. Its decorations, its grounds and its passageways all tie into some work or another of Harlan Thrombey, played with wily aplomb by Christopher Plummer. We're drawn into the world of the mysteries by the super fan that is Trooper Wagner, played by the wonderful Noah Segan, who in himself is an Easter Egg. Segan is a consistent Johnson player going back to the director's feature debut, Brick. This world is packed with incredible references. Johnson isn't just playing the game in front of us. Just like Thrombey he leaves clues of his own works and his own favorite things into the DNA of this wholly original story he's playing out for us.

You'll notice I'm tiptoeing around the biggest and most wonderful special effect of all and not mentioning details of the plot. The film, and you, deserve for that to be a surprise. Johnson's script pops and sizzles with energy. It has humor both slapstick and dark and the trademark wit of an incredible mind. Though, it's not only the script that moves, but Johnson's prowess as a director that's also on full display. There is this brilliant bit in the middle. Throughout we've seen everything on a stationary camera, but as this character feels the chaos of the situation and the burden of the truth crumble around them (I'm using the neutral pronouns so you don't see it coming), the camera is yanked from its perch and enters a steadicam shot to make the scene as chaotic as the character feels. I know I'm using this a lot, but the scene is brilliant like all of the film, which wouldn't be half as brilliant if it weren't for the stellar performances within led by Ana de Armas.

It's a crime that films have to be marketed to us with names we recognize because the marketing campaign for Knives Out gives short shrift to the uncanny and indelible performance of Ana de Armas who is the true lead of the film. De Armas brings an incredible depth and warmth to the character of Marta. She unlike the other characters has real stakes to contend with and dire realizations to grapple with throughout the film. While the others chew the scenery, de Armas brings us back down to Earth as she attempts to stay one step ahead of them and us. She is the star and she deserves this spotlight.

Go see Knives Out, it has laughs, incredible performances, twists you can predict that cover for the twists you will never see coming, and yeah, dismiss my word choice if you will, but I'm going to use it again here, go because this film is brilliant. Knives Out opens wide on November 27th.

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