Review: Knives Out

Score: A-

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Knives Out is an ingenious new thriller that takes the bones of Agatha Christie and brilliantly updates it for the most purely entertaining movie of the year.

Daniel Craig stars as Benoit Blanc, “a private investigator of great renown.” He’s been hired to help investigate the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy crime novelist. It’s initially been ruled a suicide, but Blanc suspects murder, his suspicions aroused even further after interviewing everyone in the family, all painting a rosier picture of their relationship with Harlan and each other.

Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon play Harlan’s awful kids, with Chris Evans and Jaeden Martell playing their equally awful offspring, respectively. Toni Collette plays his daughter-in-law, with Katherine Langford as her daughter. While they initially appear to be less terrible than the rest, their base instincts reveal themselves in due time. This is one of those rare movies where every part is perfectly cast, down to the tiniest cameos (which include Frank Oz and M. Emmet Walsh). But Ana de Armas shines brightest as Marta, Harlan’s nurse and only friend. Rian Johnson wants us to admire her character’s innate goodness, and not just ogle her body as so many previous films have.

There are so many twists and turns in the film that just when it seems it may have tipped its hand too early, it reveals more and more layers. It’s jam-packed with little character beats, visual gags and plot details that don’t come into play until much later in the film. It’s perfectly crafted, doling out little bits of information to keep us on our toes, and keeping us suspicious of everyone.

Johnson also weaves in political themes throughout, in a way that makes it feel timely without feeling tacked-on. There will be a lot of moments where you’ll be laughing at the quick jabs, then gritting your teeth at how familiar some of the uncomfortable family conversations feel. It’s no mistake that this film is being released the day before Thanksgiving.

Like all of Johnson’s previous efforts, this is a cleverly plotted, well-directed film with plenty of humor and intense attention to detail. Even the clothing and architecture of the house is crucial to the story.

This is a classic murder mystery with modern trimmings, and absolutely your best bet for the Thanksgiving holiday season. Make sure you carve out some time for it.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.