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MOVIES: Knives Out (LFF 2019) - Review

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Much like Star Wars: The Last Jedi was clearly made by a director who adored the Star Wars Universe, Knives Out feels like an ode to the mystery/noir genre. Rian Johnson brings his A-game to the table once again with an utterly thrilling murder mystery with plenty of crowd-pleasing moments that will have en masse audience appeal. The director has of course experimented with the noir genre before with films like Looper and Brick, so seeing him involved so heavily in Knives Out should come as no surprise, but to see everything come together so well allows for one of the most enjoyable theatre experiences of the year with a richly rewarding payoff.

Knives Out has the arch-typical set-up of an Agatha Christie mystery. We are introduced to the Drysdale family, a rich corporation in the wake of the death of their patriarch Harlan, a renowned mystery writer, played by, as ever in fine form Christopher Plummer – which is ruled as a suicide but foul play is suspected, especially after the reading of his will. With tensions running high and everyone having a motive to pull the trigger, the film delights in making the audience second guess their predictions and does its best to make everything as unpredictable as possible. Yet at the same time, it knows that there can be only so much done with the procedural crime drama and exploits the tropes to great effect, knowing what they are and knowing how they’re used to avoid a sense of repetitiveness. Everything feels fresh, and the sense of location of an old gothic house, described as being something out of Clue, sets the tone for the drama, that isn’t afraid to lean full into comedy when it needs to.

The cast is full of big names who knock it out of the park, Chris Evans is delightful as the black sheep of the family, Ransom, who arrives at the will reading of Harlan to tell his family to “eat shit” in the most glorious way possible. It’s a role so far removed from his turn as Captain America that it feels refreshing. Daniel Craig, like Evans, waltzes in like he owns the place as a famous detective who believes nobody is above suspicion, and he fits in like how Sherlock Holmes would fit in with a mystery episode of Succession, with the Drysdales making equally intimidating and flawed counterparts for the Roys. Joining Evans among the ranks of the Drysdales include Toni Colette as an Instagram influencer Joni Thrombrey, whilst Katherine Langford plays her daughter, Meg. There’s also roles for Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Don Johnson in the Drysdale family tree, and bringing them and their hot-tempered personalities under one roof allows for a delightful piece of entertainment.

But it’s one character that connects them all – Ana De Armas’s Marta Cabera, daughter of an illegal immigrant and nurse of Harlan. She has a unique curse – every time she lies, she’s forced to throw up, regardless of how small or big the lie she is, making her on paper, an excellent aid for Craig’s Detective Benoit Blanc. But Blanc is quickly able to rule nobody above suspicion and as we learn from the opening twenty minutes alone, everybody has a motive and they’re not above lying to the Detective to cover their tracks, with the situation increasingly becoming all the more desperate as time goes on, a ticking clock injected into the situation from which there is no escape from.

Whilst in certain situations there are scenes that on the surface you think are borrowing too much from the crime genre playbook, the important thing to remember is just how self-aware Knives Out is of its genre and that it largely acts like a parody. In addition to Clue, references include films like Baby Driver, covering a diverse mix of recognition for films that Johnson plays tribute too. He even respects the clich├ęs, updating them for a modern age and planting his own spin on the Chekov’s Gun trope. There’s even time for a commentary on the internet that feels designed as a way to poke fun at the over-reaction for his last movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, taking aim at Nazis in glorious fashion and giving them the treatment and vilification that they deserve.

Unpredictable, exciting and entertaining to the last, Knives Out is best watched as in the dark as possible and you’ll love it. Once the mystery is resolved it remains to be seen how well the film will cater to rewatches, but for now, the drama is complex enough to pack a lot of heart, passion and raw talent that makes it a must watch movie.

Knives Out is playing at the London Film Festival this year. You can find the trailer here.

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