Writer & director Rian Johnson, brings us an old fashioned 70’s inspired Agatha Christie whodunnit featuring one of the best ensemble casts in Hollywood. If you’re going to “Knives Out” for a specific actor or actress, just be warned that your favorite of the cast may get short changed. Ana de Armas, is the heart of the movie and becomes the main star. She really holds her own against the A-list cast. “Knives Out” ultimately comes up short by following the same generic principles that could be found in a game of “Clue”. Ultimately the question is who did it in this whodunit? But really who cares?
Last year writer and director Drew Goddard created an ensemble piece consisting of some of Hollywood’s top list actors including Jeff Bridges, Dakota Johnson, Chris Hemsworth and Jon Hamm. “Bad Times At The El Royale” had a terrific trailer that pulled you in and got you to buy a ticket to see how the mystery would unravel. The set-up and the first two acts were terrific, but the entire third act which was the payoff, went absolutely nowhere.
The same situation arises with another young writer and director Rian Johnson, brings us an old fashioned whodunnit featuring one of the best ensemble casts since…”Bad Times At The El Royale”. Like Goddard’s “El Royale”, Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” had a terrific trailer that pulled you into the mystery. The set-up here (the first act) is a drag and the films second act is terrific, as it finally grabs your attention and picks the film up, an hour in when Chris Evans finally shows up. Unlike the third act of “El Royale”, the third act of Johnson’s “Knives Out” does have a payoff, it’s just not suspenseful nor is it exciting. It ends with an “Oh Ok”.
Coming off the box office success, but non fan favorite of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. Writer and director Rian Johnson has yet to direct a movie better than “Looper” (Joesph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis). Rian Johnson goes retro in his 70’s inspired, Agatha Christie whodunit caper “Knives Out”. He stacks his cast high with the best of the best, including: Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, Ana De Armas, Toni Collette and Daniel Craig.
When the head patriarch of the Thrombey dynasty, Harlan, (Christopher Plummer) is found with a slit throat, the question of his multi-million dollar fortune comes into play, and suddenly his entire family, all of which have grown into greedy vultures dependent on him have become suspects.
Though staged like a suicide attempt, the hot-shot private investigator Beniot Blanc (Daniel Craig) isn’t biting. He’ll have to go down the family line to figure whose got the best motives for the crime, starting with Linda (Jamie Lee Curits) who created her own business from the ground up, meanwhile her husband Richard (Don Johnson) is cheating on her. There’s the other self entitled ex-daughter in law Joni (Toni Collette) along with her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford) who have been mooching off pops for decades; and we have the recently fired Walt (Michael Shannon) upset about being relieved of running Harlan’s publishing company.
But you can’t forget the two from the impressive cast that steals the show and makes the film even worth your time. It’s Captain America himself Chris Evans, playing snickering cousin Ransom Drysdale (son to Don Johnson and Jamie Lee Curtis) who hasn’t worked a single day in his life and loves to do whatever he pleases. But the most interesting character of the group is part time nurse Marta, who looked after Harlan. Marta is played by Ana de Armas (“Knock Knock”) who has a ridiculous condition of literally puking whenever she tells a lie.
Members of the cast can easily get lost, but it’s inevitable with a cast this big. If you’re going to “Knives Out” for a specific actor or actress. For me it was because of Don Johnson who was plenty of reason for me to see it. As he gets a few razor sharp scenes as the kind of guy who rants about immigration. Just be warned that your favorite of the cast may get short changed. That is unless your favorite is Ana de Armas, who is the heart of the movie and becomes the main star of the film. She holds her own superbly against The A-list cast.
007 star Daniel Craig also gets a considerable amount of screen time but he never entirely breaks free of his role. Craig’s Alabama accent is atrocious and he is just a little too stiff, as he tries to do his best Hercule Poirot (the detective of Agatha Christie’s “Murder On The Orient Express”). Although the cameo by Frank Oz as Christopher Plummer’s lawyer is superb.
Johnson’s use of the Agatha Christie model feels a bit recycled and doesn’t come close to Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 remake of “Murder On The Orient Express”. Johnson infuses MAGA politics throughout the picture, while “Knives Out” ultimately comes up short by following the same generic principles that could be found in a game of “Clue”. Someone gets murdered, suspects are introduced and questioned. The mystery is solved with a few bumps along the way. It probably didn’t help that, if you look close enough, you’ll be able to figure out the ending. Ultimately the question is who did it in this whodunit? But really who cares?
GRADE: ★★☆☆☆ (2 out of 5)