It’s no secret that murder mysteries are one of my very favorite subgenres of storytelling—whether it’s on the written page or on the big screen—so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is amongst my very favorite films of 2019. A perfectly blended tale of intrigue, murder, familial strife as well as biting social commentary on the haves and the have-nots, Knives Out is easily one of the most entertaining theatrical experiences I’ve had this year, one that will have you playing along as it unravels all of its narrative’s secrets to boot.
With a pitch-perfect cast, a wickedly fun sense of humor, and a story that continuously surprises from start to finish, I can’t help but think that Agatha Christie herself would cackle with delight at all of Knives Out’s amusing reveals and intricately conceived plotting. I know I did.
Knives Out opens with the well-meaning maid (Edi Patterson) of prolific mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) stumbling upon his dead body in his study, throat slashed and Harlan’s lifeless eyes staring off into the distance. As it turns out, his untimely demise comes on the heels of a huge family gathering for Harlan’s birthday, and during the party, the figurehead of the Thrombey dynasty has decided to put his proverbial foot down when it comes to malfeasances of his entitled brood. Harlan’s bold decisions to set his family straight means that his offspring and their kin all have their unique motivations for wanting to see the patriarch dead—but who would be so cold-blooded to shed the blood of another member of their family? Was it his double-dipping daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), who Harlan recently cut off financially? Was it his spoiled grandson Ransom (Chris Evans), who took offense to the changes that had been made to his grandfather’s will? Or was it his son Walt (Michael Shannon), who Harlan fought with over the publishing rights to all of his books? Or could it have been his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) or the other members of his calamitous brood?
In Knives Out, everyone is a suspect, and it’s up to a pair of local cops (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) and the inscrutable private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to figure out just who is behind Harlan Thrombey’s death and what motivated them to take such drastic measures in the first place. Oh, and don’t worry—I wouldn’t dream of disclosing anything here that might reveal where the story of Knives Out is ultimately heading. I mean, where’s the fun in that?
But that’s the great thing about Johnson’s script—he completely subverts every expectation you might have about Knives Out going into it, delivering a wholly entertaining and engrossing story that seems to turn left every time you think it’s going to turn right. As someone who first discovered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the tender age of eight, I cannot even begin to express just how refreshing the direction Knives Out takes, with a narrative that adheres to the spirit of more than a hundred years of murder mysteries, but at the same time, also confidently blazes its own path as well. Undoubtedly, Knives Out will draw out comparisons to the work of the aforementioned Agatha Christie, but Johnson utilizes a few elements out of Hitchcock’s cinematic playbook to boot.
As far as the cast goes, Knives Out is an embarrassment of acting riches, with one of the best ensembles we’ve seen in all of 2019. Like the saying goes, “there’s not a bad apple in the bunch,” and Johnson smartly gives each of his performers their moment to shine in the film. Featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell (who is having a helluva year, between Knives Out, IT Chapter Two, The Lodge, and the recent festival hit, The True Adventures of Wolfboy), Riki Lindhome, as well as the previously discussed Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Ana de Armas, LaKeith Stanfield, and Noah Segan, everyone in Knives Out is firing on all cylinders and feels like they're having the time of their lives doing so.
On a technical level, Knives Out is absolutely aces, with some truly fantastic production design that made my detail-obsessed brain downright giddy (seriously, if there are two films I could live in from this year, it would be Ready or Not and Knives Out). Steve Yedlin’s cinematography is fantastic as well, and I immediately fell in love with Nathan Johnson’s delightfully sumptuous score.
It’s almost unfair that Knives Out is as entertaining and enjoyable as it is, because any future murder mystery movies will forever have to live up to how high Rian Johnson sets the bar here with his latest effort. A true crowd-pleaser that should undoubtedly reward viewers upon multiple viewings, I cannot wait to dig into Knives Out repeatedly in the future. It’s just so damn good.
Movie Score: 5/5