At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Knives Out “2019”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Mystery Comedy-Thriller/ Stars: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Noah Segan, Frank Oz, Raúl Castillo, M. Emmet Walsh/ Runtime: 130 minutes

Before he decided to take a plunge into a galaxy far, far away with the divisive Star Wars film that is The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson was known for producing some truly engaging and original films that took tropes we all thought familiar and well-worn and made them intriguing and engaging again. Indeed look no further than Looper and Brick from 2012 and 2006 respectively in order to see two fine examples of this man and his prowess. Thankfully that brings us now to Johnson’s new version of the time-honored murder mystery genre, Knives Out and I can honestly say that Rian has successfully come back in a big way. Indeed armed with a truly remarkable cast, a barbed and sharp screenplay, and an ingeniously twisty narrative that feels like something straight out a long-lost Agatha Christie novel, Knives Out truly is a return to form for its talented director as well as a twistedly hilarious caper that you will never want to end.

The plot is as follows: Knives Out starts with the death of a famed mystery writer named Harlan Thrombey (an effectively understated Christopher Plummer). Following the horrific discovery of the deceased however, the film then proceeds to jump ahead in time one week and we get to witness as the rest of the family is called back to his gorgeous estate to be questioned by 2 cops and a mystery man whom we quickly learn is a private eye of some renown and fame named Benoit Blanc. The reason for the questioning? Well it appears that, despite the cops feeling this is just a tragic suicide, our PI hero feels, due to being hired under mysterious circumstances, that there is more to the story. Just how much more however I will leave you to discover for yourself. Suffice it to say this is a case where it quickly will become apparent to both you as a member of the audience and Mr. Blanc that no one in this family is truly innocent, and that some secrets may just be worth killing for….

Now the director of this film has consistently showcased a unique gift for always finding ways to keep an audience on their toes, and thankfully I can say that this talent manages to showcase itself in full with this movie. Indeed this starts with the fact that although the movie follows the cliché of showing little bits from the various characters and their interactions with the deceased on the night of the murder, we also quickly see that they aren’t as willing to share all the information with the investigative team as they are with us in the audience. Indeed this is a movie that revels and delights in the simultaneous act of both setting up and pulling off the twists contained within this film’s 130 minute runtime as well as setting the foundation for the twists way before the audience has a chance to even see them coming.

Yet Alan you may be saying, isn’t it true that an observant-enough audience, especially one who possess enough of a passion in the art of solving a mystery plot before the characters could potentially pick up on the clues, and have this all figured out by film’s end? Normally dear reader I would say yes due to film history and habit, but in the case of this film I would have to say that I am not so sure. Indeed the reason for this again falls on Rian Johnson and his wonderful ability of defying expectations. In this case however, the gift is used to literally always keep the audience stumbling around in their attempts to not only navigate the case and the various alibis and underhandedness that is very much afoot, but to also begin to have even an inkling of just what exactly the solution to this convoluted and complicated web truly looks like. Indeed Knives Out may be a fantastic movie, but as a showcase for its main writer and director’s talents as a filmmaker it is truly exceptional.

However a terrific director/writer does not always make a great movie; rather sometimes it takes just the right cast in order to bring the world of the filmmaker to life in just the right way. Thankfully, this is an issue which the film manages to deal with right off the bat thanks to one of the more expertly constructed ensemble casts for a movie of this ilk in recent memory. Indeed while some of the film’s characters are, to be fair, naturally given more of a focus than others, I do also feel that despite that there is still not a single lacking performance to be found on display herein due not only to with each of the cast truly making the most out of every single minute of screen time that they are presented with, but also because of just how much fun every single member of the cast seems to be having with their respective characters.

Particular stand-outs nevertheless still do exist starting with Jamie Lee Curtis who in her time as Linda is a joy to watch as a strict, slightly uptight businesswoman with absolutely no regard for the word “bullshit”, a thoroughly engaging Don Johnson with his character proving to be one of the more hilarious clueless poster boys for “vain, ignorant white guy” ever put on celluloid, and a delightful in his casting against type Chris Evans who is wonderfully repulsive as the family pariah who continuously attempts to show just “how much better he is than the rest of this extremely dysfunctional clan”. Indeed without going into spoilers, Evans doesn’t really come into things until about halfway through, but to compensate he is given what is easily the deepest arc out of everyone in the family of bloodthirsty piranha at the center of the story, and it really is a terrific opportunity for Evans to show he can play other characters besides certain Marvel “superheroes” quite well.

Ultimately though, Knives Out really truly belongs, performance-wise, to both Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas who manage to both anchor and lead the film’s narrative with an impressive sense of commitment and energy. Indeed, armed with both a Southern accent that would make Foghorn Leghorn want to sue him for copyright violation and a degree of eccentricity that consistently threatens to cross over into maniacal, Daniel Craig manages to just take every single moment he is on screen and just livens it up by a scale factor of at least 10-12. Indeed it is no closely guarded secret that Craig has been engaged in a desperate battle with his choice of roles to really attempt to rid himself of the restraints that James Bond has had on him for a while now, but between this and 2017’s Logan Lucky, I feel that we have been given significantly enough proof to showcase that Craig is not just a kick-butt action hero; rather he’s also a talented actor period and I can’t wait to hopefully see more of him once his time as Bond wraps up in 2020. Now in a cast of such noted actors/actresses, it may come as a surprise to many of you when I tell you that Ana de Armas is actually this film’s protagonist, but after her magnificent co-starring role opposite Ryan Gosling in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049, it is no surprise that when given the chance to lead a film that de Armas manages to show that she is entirely up for the challenge. Indeed with her turn as Marta, de Armas manages to give us not only a winning performance that is equal turns both empathetic and sweet, but is also one that is so pure that Marta easily could be classified just as much if not more so as the true heart and soul of the film.

All in all I can honestly say that this is some of the most fun I have had at a movie this year. Indeed Knives Out is more than a delightful mixture of the best elements of Dame Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock. It is also a film that, when faced with a calendar year that has played it safe in Hollywood standards by producing more remakes and sequels, actually dares the audience to embrace and enjoy something genuinely original. Indeed it may be paying IOUs to a time-honored and well-admired genre of cinema left and right, but Knives Out is still nevertheless a wonderful breath of fresh air that is sure to be a delightful puzzle to add to your movie collection for you and the rest of the family to watch time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Knives Out a solid 4.5 out of 5.