Film Reviews

Knives Out (2019)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana De Armas, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer

Director: Rian Johnson

When wealthy mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) is found with his throat cut after a family gathering, the police investigation is joined by famous eccentric detective Benoit Blanc (Craig). While all the members of the family had their reasons for killing the patriarch of the family, his nurse Marta (De Armas), a woman who throws up when she lies, might know more than she’s saying and have the most to gain.

If you’ve seen the movie Clue you know that the mystery genre has been around so long that it’s always ripe for a parody and that that kind of parody can be very funny. This film appears to be a kind of golden age mystery, something that Agatha Christie might write, with an old house full of secrets and a wealthy man with heirs who all need money. A classic mystery set up. It’s odd though. Everyone in this film is a big name, and it feels kind of surprising that they all signed up for an ensemble film where none of them would be given much to do. It think I guessed the ending of the film almost immediately. And it’s not that funny, so I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a mystery film or a comedy. Is it intentionally funny? In which case, it’s not very witty. Or is it meant to be a crime story with some humour? In which case, why reveal so much so early and why not make the film have some kind of twist?

Rian Johnson directed Looper and Brick, both of which are interesting films which make you think and have some sense of intrigue and mystery, twist and turns… This film really isn’t up to the standard of those films.

I also had to wonder about Daniel Craig’s detective. His southern accent is terrible, and for someone who purports to be the last, eccentric detective, a la Christie or Dorthy Sayers, Benoit Blanc is pretty ordinary. He doesn’t seem to have any quirks or even dress in an interesting way like Poirot. He just has a dodgy accent. Perhaps Daniel Craig just isnt all that funny? I really like him in a lot of things, but here, he fails to make an impact and his lines or humourous moments failed to land.

What the film does do nicely is set design, location and costuming. I really wanted to explore that house and pick everything up, and even know more about the books that Harlan Thrombey wrote. It feels like he likes interesting props and his place might have secret passages or something. There is one trick window, but that’s about it. Actually, the house is so beautifully designed and creates a world so well that it felt a little odd when the film was in other locations. There are some scenes where Marta is driving around, and it was normal streets and locations… it felt jarring after that incredible, cluttered house. Why leave that location when there’s so much possibility for story to mine there?

The characters are mostly cliche and don’t do much. Michael Shannon is always good and gets to be menacing. There’s a kid who is apparently a Nazi, but he gets very little to do. Toni Collette is great as a thinly veiled, shallow Gwyneth Paltrow, which was actually pretty funny. Don Johnson and Jamie Lee Curtis are also there… I mean, these are all excellent characters, but the film really does nothing with them except make them stock types and make them say cliche things, and talk about today’s politics, which frankly, is already dated with how fast life is moving this year. And that people are propably at the movies trying to get away from… Why did all these great people sign up for this film and then get hardly any screen time and almost no dastardly machinations or suspicion thrown on them? Well, except Chris Evans, but it’s super heavy handed and we know almost immediately what his role in it all is. At least I did… I think we’re meant to.

In essence, it’s not a bad film at all, it’s just not a great one and feels like a Netflix special rather than something you’d pay to see in the cinema. As someone who loves a mystery, I had fun, even though the film got kinda long winded in the middle and was a bit slow, it’s not bad. But it’s not great either. If I saw this was coming up on TV, I’d be happy about it and watch it, but it doesn’t have those great qualities that make for a memorable film. Oddly enough, it looks like it’s getting a sequel.

See It If: you love watching Poirot or Nero Wolfe reruns on your weekend afternoons. It’s fun, but not special.

9 thoughts on “Knives Out (2019)”

  1. Good review! I watched part of it but gave up after half an hour. Like you said Daniel Craig hopelessly failed to speak with a southern accent making his role rather unrealistic. They should’ve given a southern actor like Matthew McConaughey the role.

    I think some of the other actors struggled with their roles and it feels like they were forced to act without knowing the plot or anything else to do with the film or story. The only solid acting I spotted was by Jamie Lee Curtis. Don Johnson should retire…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. No Daniel Craig can only play Bond, he’s no good for anything else. Don Johnson only for Miami Vice and maybe Nash Bridges although I enjoyed Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man for laughs 😊 You must not have seen him in Knives Out if you think he retired?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I totally agree! It felt like it lacked a lot for the genre. Fun premise but disappointing script and execution. And the twist was incredibly easy to guess!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Craig chose a very particular brand of Southern accent (his inspiration was specifically Shelby Foote,¹ apparently, whom he matches _reasonably_ well, in my humble opinion), one that’s not one of the most common down there–and not part of the regions I spent my 17 years in or had friends from, given Foote is from Mississippi and all my time down there was NC, SC, GA, and AL, with a touch of TN. Imperfect, but because it’s so very particular, I think it threw a lot of people off. At the time, I couldn’t quite decide myself if it was a deliberately anachronistic, caricature, or ‘unspecified’, but it didn’t bother me despite all my years down there (though I know it bothered some folks *from* various places down there).

    I felt most of the humour in this one was relentlessly dark and situational more than verbal much of the time–though I also haven’t seen it since the theatres 7 or 8 months ago. It was more “touches of comedy” to me on that note–but I remember snorting early on at Marta’s mother’s descriptions in front of her, which felt too deliberately (in writing terms), obliviously (in character terms) insensitive to not be a joke.

    It’s definitely a drawing room mystery (though half-modernized), and it’s about viewer suspicion more than “internal” suspicion I felt: building up a series of bizarre and interesting characters to leave viewers slightly off-balance but entertained, unsure how the slightly-off logic of the film’s family dynamics might work (suspicion or no, there seemed to be thorough capability on all parts…)–part of the contrasted set design on Thrombey’s house as well, I felt. The family is so over-the-top nuts, that the house’s eccentricity is pointed toward this being absurdity and uniqueness of the family, but clarifying that it’s not the entire “film universe” that’s that way–it’s just this family.

    I also felt the politics, while of an era for certain, were generalized enough to be “era” and not “narrow, already-dated” sort of bands of time–but I don’t recall them perfectly. Certainly some (that I vaguely recall) seem unfortunately maintained in my regular readings of the news.

    Interesting to read such a notably different opinion, though!

    ¹https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZC3gwUOz54

    Like

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