TIFF 2019 Review: Exceptional cast can't save underwhelming 'Knives Out'
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Fresh off the critical and box office success of “The Last Jedi,” Rian Johnson can retroactively get away with murder, which is exactly what he’s doing in his whodunit caper “Knives Out.” Though the filmmaker stacks his cast high and low with the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Micheal Shannon, Christopher Plummer, and Toni Collette, the clever riff on the Agatha Christie model feels a bit recycled, and if not for a Southern drawl spewing Daniel Criag doing his best Hercule Poirot, the film would feel like a total bust.
Not from a lack of trying, because Johnson - who also wrote the screenplay - tries to make the most “woke” murder mystery of all time by infusing MAGA politics and “Hamilton” references galore throughout his picture, and though the writer tries to toss a wrench in the plot by revealing a twist in the second act, “Knives Out” ultimately comes up short by following the same generic principles that could be found in a game of “Clue”: A) Someone gets murdered. B) Suspects are introduced and questioned. C) 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 lickety split.
Still, Johnson has assembled an incredible crew of respectable actors who inhabit their characters with a delicious aftertaste, and they all have something to hide. So 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 - are suspects.
Though staged like a suicide attempt, the hot-shot private investigator Beniot Blanc (Daniel Craig who disappears so completely into this role, it’ll make you forget he’s our current James Bond) isn’t biting. He’ll have to go down the line of succession 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 (never mind she only needed a cool $1 million bucks from Dad to get it started), meanwhile her husband Richard (Don Johnson) is cheating on her. There’s the other self entitled ex-daughter in law Joni (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 Steve Rogers himself Chris Evans finding his inner frat boy posture playing snickering cousin Ransom Drysdale who hasn’t worked a single day in his life and loves to tell people to “Eat shit.” But the most interesting character to study is the part time nurse Marta - often referred to as “the help” - played by Ana de Armas (she was brilliant in “Blade Runner 2049”) - who literally pukes whenever she tells a lie. Blanc appreciates that virtue and enlists her to help lead the hunt for the evildoer.
Each actor’s hammy performances certainly take “Knives Out” in interesting directions, and it should be no surprise how each character starts to poke holes in other members testimonies, where Johnson - in the best accomplishment of the film - cuts together a montage that picks up the smallest of inconsistencies in folks retelling of the birthday party where Harlan was last seen alive.
No doubt, Johnson is trying to tinker with the genre and attempts to upend your expectations at every corner, and in that respect “Knives Out” moves so quickly sometimes you’d wish the film would stop and take a breather. Most of the material is all tongue-in-cheek and the filmmaker is basically asking the audience to laugh at the irreverence on display, which would work if the film was not an underwhelming mystery that, sadly, lacks an emotionally gripping payoff. Case closed.
Lionsgate will release Knives Out in theaters on November 27th and the film was screened as a world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.