REVIEW: ‘Knives Out’ murders all expectations

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Courtesy of IMDB

Full cast of "Knives Out," which earned a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

A cunning thrill, a nail-biter, a would-be page turner, “Knives Out” begins with a “whodunit” murder, a pool of blood and untied ends. Being a lover of murder mystery novels and films, this one was not what I predicted it to be. Rian Johnson stacked the cast with famous figures, but the film still has an old-fashioned classic appearance. 

As in many murder mystery classics, the film is set in grand East Coast estate, with elegant rooms, wooden frames, gated entrances, eerily placed decor and props, creeky stairs, and hidden passages filled with curiosities. Although the film sticks to the tried and true setting of a murder mystery,  it interplays with modern props and images with iPhones, social media influencers, Juuls and a 21st-century sense of humor. 

The film begins when the housekeeper, Fran (Edi Patterson), discovers a renowned novelist (Christopher Plummer) dead in his study just after his 85th birthday party. The sleuthing and debonair detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives at the estate after being anonymously hired to investigate the murder. 

While investigating Harlan’s dysfunctional and opulent  family, as well as his devoted staff, Detective Blanc works through a tangled knot of red herrings, determined to find the truth behind Harlan’s  demise. Although the film is not portrayed in the order of most murder mystery plots, it is charged with suspense, entertainment, humor, irony, death, a multitude of of shifty money-motivated suspects, and twists. 

The house itself serves as a steady framework for Benoit Blanc to work in, with its dark wood-paneled corners, it allows for the detective to isolate and investigate his suspects . The estate, being as dramatically built as it is, is perfect for a renowned novelist and sets the stage for a theatrical murder, an astute family and a dissolute investigation. 

Harlan is portrayed as a charming beast with a family who leeches off his financial support, Plummer could not be more perfect to portray a character as mysterious and charming as he. It’s a shame his character isn’t around longer in the film, but flashbacks and recaps allows the audience to instantly fall in love and become invested in his death. 

Johnson scatters his characters around, giving enough hints about them as they enter and exit through out the film. Each time they enter and exit in flashbacks, more and more is slowly revealed, inching the audience closer to each suspect’s possible motivation in the murder. The plot gets complicated, and shares some of  the eccentric features of a classic Agatha Christie novel. Packed with interrogations, motives, alibis and deductions, the film is a classic murder myster finely curated with the cast of Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Chris Evans, Toni Collette and more. 

Rian Johnson plays with many political agendas throughout the film, adding to the  crowded complexity of each character, portraying a family involved in politics just as they are involved in money and deceit. As each character is portrayed after the estate and will of the deceased Harlan are announced, their pettiness is exposed and their false agendas are stripped. 

The complexity of each character couldn’t be articulated well without Johnson’s film techniques. He plays around with steady action shots during times of control and and inquiry, then shifts into a hand-held style of shaky and chaotic filming during times of suspense. After the estate reading, the camera follows Marta steadily out of the house with a firm shot, where it then shifts into a hand-held style of filming, circulating around running bodies, floating heads, and eccentric behavior. 

Playing around with an old-fashioned film genre, Johnson must have had fun directing and engineering a 21st century rendition of a murder mystery packed with genuine and relevant humor and a twist of events that diverge from the vintage exemplars of murder mysteries. Just like typical murder mystery novelists, Rian Johnson is clearly a director with imagination and wit. When you’re riding along with the twists of the story, remember that the twists are not elements of the story, but are the story.

CORRECTION (Feb. 4, 2020 9 a.m.): An earlier version of this review misstated who was found dead at the beginning of the film.