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Film Review: “Knives Out” clever and compelling

In addition to being an incredibly smart film, “Knives Out” is a compelling mystery with poignant political commentary. 


The whodunit centers around the death of wealthy mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). In addition to the unexpected and unusual tragedy, the family’s eyes turn to his fortune – his publishing company, $60 million and massive estate – with every last member wanting a piece of the pie. The film boasts an all-star cast featuring the talents of Daniel Craig, Chris Evans and Jamie Lee Curtis to name a few. “Knives Out” also bears a striking resemblance to the horror-comedy “Ready or Not,” which was released earlier this year. 


Rian Johnson is the director as well as a producer and writer for “Knives Out.” This is his first feature-length film since “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi,” which proved to be quite divisive among fans. Outside “The Last Jedi,” Johnson’s arguably most creative and well-known work is “Looper,” a science-fiction film released in 2012. He also directed three of the most lauded episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” Johnson’s versatility has earned respect from critics and audiences alike.


The A-list talent helps elevate the film, but the true driving force behind “Knives Out” is the performance by Ana de Armas as Harlan’s caretaker Marta Cabrera. An actress certainly on the rise, de Armas is most well-known for her role in “Blade Runner 2049” as the hologram Joi. Her intelligent, tender Marta is easily a contender for the best character in this otherwise chaotic mad dash for Harlan’s inheritance.


A close second-best performance in “Knives Out” is Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc, a private detective who is tasked with finding Harlan Thrombey’s suspected murderer. His sleuthing skills along with his southern drawl are captivating and help him steal almost every scene he appears in. 


Much like other films that came out in the past year, “Knives Out” tackles topics such as wealth, privilege and politics. Topical issues such as immigration and extremist politics add a layer of realism, inserting this otherwise timeless formula into a present-day America. Additionally, the film is drenched in political references. There are plenty of indirect mentions of current American politics and during family arguments, which may be all too familiar to some of the film’s viewers around the holidays.


As thrilling as “Knives Out” is, the film takes a bit to get off the ground. The beginning of the movie feels fairly repetitive with each of the family members giving their accounts of what happened. The flashbacks to the events of the prior night are entertaining, but the exposition dump may be less exhausting if the information was spread out more evenly throughout the film. 


Johnson cites stories by legendary mystery writer Agatha Christie as inspiration for the screenplay. In addition to the atmosphere and quirky characters in the movie being spot-on whodunit tropes such as the unorthodox private investigator, the dynamic motives of the characters, and large Victorian mansion as the setting, there are some references in the movie to works like the board game “Clue.” Instead of preventing the film from taking enough risks, these identifiable elements enrich “Knives Out” by updating the presentation.


Not only does “Knives Out” put the audience’s sleuthing skills to the test, but it is also a fun movie to watch. The family dynamic in the film is sure to get plenty of laughs, but there is also a deeper meaning and heart in the film as well. The humor is witty (some is undoubtedly politically-charged), and the pacing keeps audiences on the edge of their seats until the very end.

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