[TIFF 2019] Knives Out: A gleeful, hilarious revival of the whodunit genre

Rian Johnson is the best genre director alive today.

There, I said it.

Sure, some – most, in all likelihood – will know his work from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s still widely successful and critically acclaimed, and it’s a unique way to tell a story, but it’s not an original idea. I mention this because it’s those original ideas where Johnson flourishes. He did it with 2005’s Brick, and again with 2012’s Looper, and Knives Out may be his best one yet.

In this revival of the whodunit, the murder mystery, family patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his study, his throat slit by his own hand – just the morning after his 85th birthday party. While the police (Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) are convinced it’s suicide, detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) believes foul play is at hand. The game, then, is afoot.

From there, Johnson weaves a complicated tale of deceit and betrayal, and one that’s told sort of the outside in, a unique method of telling a murder mystert. Craig is a delight as the detective, clearly channeling the best sort of Hercule Poirot stories, but instead with a southern drawl. Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) is his Watson, Harlan’s former nurse Marta. Though Marta is as involved in the intrigue as anybody else, she is the only character with whom the audience is acquainted with from the beginning, as we see as she does.

The rest of the cast is incredibly stacked: Jamie Lee Curtis as Harlan’s daughter Linda, Don Johnson as her sleazy husband Richard, Chris Evans as their spoiled son Ransom, Michael Shannon as Linda’s brother Walt, Toni Collette as their sister-in-law Joni, and Katherine Langford as Joni’s daughter Meg. They all have a few standout moments of their own, and they each deliver on them perfectly, but the standout is Chris Evans.

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Evans evokes memories of his pre-Captain America days, hearkening back to The Losers and Scott Pilgrim, but even those pale in comparison to his work on Knives Out. He is hilarious, delivering in a few key scenes (some of which are partially seen in the trailer above) that had the audience rolling.

It’s reminiscent of Clue: The Movie – something Johnson is aware of, given that he outright references the board game near the beginning – with the intricate plot threads keeping the audience guessing at every turn. No piece of information, whether it’s through dialogue or visuals, is wasted; Johnson references everything in the cleverest of ways, right up until the final lingering shot. There are numerous other references as well, whether it’s to Alfred Hitchcock or other murder mystery novels – it’s fitting that the deceased Harlan Thrombey made his fortune off writing murder mysteries. Most of the plot also takes place within the Thrombey mansion, but that’s not a crutch – the house is just as much a character as anybody else, with false doors and creaky stairways.

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Knives Out is a crowdpleaser in the best sort of way. It’s carefully crafted, but allows for extensive comedy; it’s a commentary on the world’s political state, but it knows when to back off; it keeps the audience guessing, but never treats them like idiots for not knowing what’s going on.

It absolutely demands to be seen in a packed theatre with an audience, as the gasps and laughs on their own are worth the price of admission. In the era of superheroes and sequels, this is the exact type of movie that deserves your support, but not to worry – it deserves your patronage all on it’s own, because it’s the best moviegoing experience of the year. Don’t miss out.


Knives Out hits theatres in North America on November 27, 2019.

You can find Sho (and his many takes on #TIFF19) on Twitter at @SNSAlli.

 

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