Film Review: Knives Out

The first half hour of Knives Out does a fantastic job at laying the groundwork for a compelling, unique murder mystery with a mostly-stellar group of suspects who are portrayed by an enormous ensemble cast. However, the film eventually drops its focus on a chunk of its most interesting characters, becoming a more standard affair that doesn’t quite serve its terrific talent justice despite a great ending. It’s far from a bad movie, but it’s also a far cry from the other works of director Rian Johnson that I’ve seen.

Knives Out centers around the death of a family’s wealthy, writer patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), the investigation surrounding it. There are surprises here and there, some more surprising than others, and those are all the plot points I will be sharing, as it is definitely best going into the film like Jon Snow: knowing nothing.

Johnson’s whodunnit shines brightest whenever Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is on screen, with the exception of one scene. Blanc is one of the Bond actor’s most memorable roles to date, mixing quirky smarts with strong humor, and he seems to be having a whole lot of fun with it, which in turn makes it fun for the audience. I would love to get even more time with the character in a spin-off case, he’s just too good for one movie.

Ana de Armas is, unsurprisingly, great too as Harlan’s caretaker Marta, one of the few people who seems to be a genuinely good person. She may not bring the same level of charisma as Blanc, but de Armas makes up for it by delivering a few of Knives Out’s biggest laughs. Aside from a cringe-inducing scene featuring a discussion of politics, Marta’s interactions with the Thromby’s and Blanc are all great.

Rounding out the best cast members is Chris Evans, with his performance as one of Harlan’s spoiled grandchildren being a huge departure from his most popular and notable role, Captain America. Ransom is an arrogant, foul-mouthed piece of work, and a far cry from the heart and soul of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If Evans was planning to distance himself from Cap, he’s certainly on the right track with roles like these.

The three aforementioned actors are just enough to make up for the fairly predictable storytelling in Knives Out’s latter half – I was able to identify the culprit about half an hour before the reveal, it was still fun to watch though – but not enough to make the film truly great. Maybe if we’d gotten more from Harlan’s other children, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) Walt (Michael Shannon) or the in-laws, Richard (Don Johnson) Donna (Rikki Lindhome) and Joni (Toni Collette), the movie could have lived up to my expectations. Unfortunately, most of the cast isn’t given the screen time they deserve.

Then there’s Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan, who are never given much to do despite being in a fair portion of the movie. The sole purpose of Stanfield’s Detective Elliot appears to be making Blanc seem that much smarter, Segan’s Trooper Wagner is there to just fanboy over the deceased Harlan’s novels, and neither of them feel crucial to the story even though they are present for the majority of it.

I know it sounds like I’m just ragging on it, so I’m going to say it again: Knives Out not a bad movie overall. It’s a mostly decent one with pockets of greatness, and is definitely worth checking out if you’re interested. I just wish someone had tempered my expectations before I saw it. I was hoping for more from the talent both in front of and behind the camera – Johnson’s first film, Brick, is one of the most original mystery movies out there – but I still enjoyed my time with Knives Out, and I eagerly await whatever Rian Johnson creates next.

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