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Knives Out


Growing up, I've always been a big mystery fan: Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, Murder, She Wrote, The Maltese Falcon, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Clue, The Purloined Letter, Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, etc. so it's a real treat to see an old fashioned style Whodunit (with a new modern twist)  like Knives Out in theaters again after so long.
Synopsis: When famed mystery and crime writer Harlan Thrombey is found dead with his throat slit, it's assumed his death is a suicide and nothing more, but when private investigator Benoit Blanc is anonymously hired to investigate, he soon suspects foul play and must navigate a complicated web involving Thrombey's slimy and self-absorbed family members to figure out what is going on.
Getting straight to the point (no pun intended), Knives Out is very well done. The cinematography is wonderfully atmospheric, reminding me of the classic Whodunits from the 70s and 80s. The performances and dialogue are all top-notch, especially Daniel Craig as the eccentric and expressive Blanc (using his Southern accent to excellent effect, both here and in the underrated Logan Lucky), Chris Evans with relished sliminess as the smug playboy Ransom, and in particular the lovely Ana De Armas (who was wonderful as the hologram A.I. Joi in Blade Runner 2049) as Harlan's nurse, Marta, with the solid and reliable Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collete, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Christopher Plummer, and others to back them up.
Rian Johnson definitely knows his way around mysteries, crafting a complex story that lovingly pays tribute to the films and books that inspired him, while also subverting certain tropes of the genre to give his own unique take to it. He doesn't get lost in the complexity either, as everything is meticulously thought out and executed in such a detailed way, everything made logical sense and I was personally able to buy it (Makes me want to check out Johnson's first film, Brick, a homage to film noirs even more now).
That being said, I did have two issues that prevented me from fully embracing it: the political commentary and the murderer's motives.
With the former, I have to note that I am not against political commentary being in films in general. A lot of, if not most of my favorite films have some sort of political commentary in them (The Lion King, Casablanca, Star Wars, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Wizard of Oz), but just at a certain level necessary for the story's needs. Indeed, for the most part, Knives Out handles its political commentary quite well nicely blending it with the mystery plot by focusing on a certain character, their background/backstory, and their relationship with the other characters, effectively building tension and expressing the themes Johnson is going for.
However, Johnson also goes a bit overboard in places as well, expressing the commentary directly on the nose through dialogue in a scene that not only slowed things to a crawl until the mystery elements came back, but also, I think, immediately dates the movie a little bit. There is also a "topical" family character who serves little to no purpose other than to be a one-note joke and didn't really need to be there. As a result of those factors, it felt like Johnson was beating the commentary over the audience's heads, which took me out of the film a few times. Luckily he only does this once or twice, wisely choosing to focus on the characters and mystery investigation the majority of the time.
With the latter issue of the murderer's motives, because their plan was so detailed and well thought out, I was a bit underwhelmed when it was revealed why they did it as it felt too similar to the other suspects' motives (although this issue may be due to personal preference and having experienced a lot of mysteries where the killer's motives were different or unique to other suspects' motives). If the killer had had another motive like they were hiding something terrible that Harlan found out about and killed him before he revealed it, on top of the shared motive, then I would have been a bit more satisfied.
Overall though, the rest of Knives Out is so strong and effective that it outweighs those issues and I definitely recommend it if you haven't seen it yet (curious to see what I think after a second viewing). I also look forward to seeing Craig solving another mystery as Blanc (which Johnson has hinted he has an idea for).
First viewing rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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