Sunday, December 08, 2019
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out is a whodunit that revolves around the death of a patriarch during a tumultuous family gathering as a detective tries to solve the case of this murder. The film is a suspense-drama that explores the murder of a man on his birthday with a detective questioning the motives of the man’s family as well as people close to him at this party leading all sorts of secrets and such in the family. Starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Martell, Katherine Langford, Lakeith Stanfield, Edi Patterson, Noah Segan, K Callan, and Christopher Plummer. Knives Out is an exhilarating and whimsical film from Rian Johnson.
A birthday party for a celebrated crime novelist happens as he is found dead the next morning where investigators and a revered detective try to solve the case with the man’s caretaker being a prime suspect. It’s a film that is essentially a simple whodunit where a family deals with the death of the patriarch but also become concerned about their future as family members become suspects due to their issues with the patriarch. Rian Johnson's screenplay mainly takes place days after the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) as his family including his caretaker Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) is met with investigators about what happened on his birthday. Thrombey’s two adult kids in the real estate mogul Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Walter who runs his father’s publishing company as well as Linda’s husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) and daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) each talked about what they discussed with Harlan with the investigators lead by the private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) who is wondering who hired him believing that Harlan’s death was no accident.
Marta is a suspect as she was the last person to supposedly with Harlan that night as she also has a condition where if she lies, she will vomit as she assists Blanc though some believe that she did it. Adding to this toxic case of suspicion includes the presence of Linda and Richard’s son Ransom (Chris Evans) who is considered the black sheep of the family as he likes to stir up trouble. Even as it is clear that the family that also include Joni’s daughter Megan (Katherine Langford) and Walter’s son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) who is always seen on his phone and spouting alt-right views are full of trouble and might have motives as it pertains to Harlan’s will. Blanc believes there is a lot more that is going on while he also wonders who hired him anonymously with Marta gaining the ire of some of the people in Harlan’s family with a few exceptions including Ransom.
Johnson’s direction is largely straightforward in terms of its compositions but also has a flair for style in the way it presents certain scenes from different perspectives. Shot on various locations in and around areas in Boston, Massachusetts, the film uses the locations as characters with Harlan’s home being its main setting as it’s a home filled with antiques, animal heads, and all sorts of things that play into his many accomplishments. Johnson would use wide shots for some of the locations as well as capture the atmosphere of the birthday party to showcase how many people are there or in a high-angle camera shot. Yet, much of his direction is emphasized on close-ups and medium shots as it play into conversations between characters or tiny details that can relate to a clue in the investigation. Notably on floors, walkways, and other things in and out of the house that might lead to some kind of clue including vials in Marta’s medical bag as she knows the kind of medication Harlan needed as it is routine for her.
Johnson’s direction also play into some offbeat humor as it relates to the investigative tactics of Blanc as he is an intriguing figure who is good at what he does but is also good at reading people. He knows that not everything with Marta holds up but doesn’t see her as someone who has the motivations nor the heart to kill Harlan. Johnson’s direction does play into the idea of drama and suspense in its third act that include Blanc dealing with some of the intricacies of the mystery while Ransom becomes an integral part in the third act. Notably as into why he’s been the black sheep of the family as someone who never interacted nor did anything with the family preferring to live a playboy lifestyle. The mystery of Harlan’s death would come to ahead but also more revelations into who hired Blanc and why as it adds a lot more with some questions about what Harlan ultimately wanted for his family. Overall, Johnson crafts a witty yet riveting film about a whodunit on the death of a crime novelist.
Cinematographer Steve Yedlin does excellent work with the film’s cinematography as it does have elements of low-key lighting some scenes at night while emphasizing more on a straightforward look for many of its exterior scenes. Editor Bob Ducsay does brilliant work with the editing as it has bits of slow-motion cut along with rhythmic cuts to play into the suspense and comedy. Production designer David Crank, with set decorator David Schlesinger and art director Jeremy Woodward, is amazing for the look as it play into the look of the house including a circular decoration of knives in Harlan’s study as well as the office and his room as the house is a major highlight of the film. Costume designer Jenny Eagan does fantastic work with the costumes from some of the stylish clothes that Joni and Linda wear as well as the clothes of the other characters with the more humbled look of Marta.
Visual effects supervisor Tim Keene does terrific work with the visual effects as it is mainly set dressing for a few scenes including one involving arson. Sound designer Al Nelson does superb work with the sound as it help play into the atmosphere as well as sounds that add intrigue into the night of Harlan’s death as well as sounds that add to the family chaos. The film’s music by Nathan Johnson is incredible for its orchestral score that help play into the suspense and drama as it is a highlight of the film while its soundtrack feature music from the Rolling Stones, Roxy Music, and other forms of music from pop to standards.
The casting by Mary Vernieu is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Frank Oz as Harlan’s lawyer, M. Emmet Walsh as a security officer at Harlan’s home, Marlene Forte as Marta’s mother, Shyrela Rodriguez as Marta’s sister Alicia, K Callan as Harlan’s elderly mother Wanetta who might’ve seen what really happened, Riki Lindholme as Walter’s wife Donna, Noah Segan as Trooper Wagner who aids in the investigation as he is also a fan of Harlan’s work, Edi Patterson as the family maid Fran who intensely dislikes Ransom as she was the one who discovered Harlan’s body, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a voice cameo as a detective in a TV show Alicia watches. Jaeden Martell is terrific as Walter and Donna’s son Jacob who spends much of his time on his phone while often says offensive that leans more towards extreme-conservative ideals. Katherine Langford is fantastic as Megan Thrombey as a college student who is always kind to Marta as she becomes concerned with the aftermath of the will while reluctantly takes part in the family schemes.
Lakeith Stansfield is superb as Detective Lieutenant Elliot as a local detective who takes part in the investigation as he is also someone who has some insight into what is really going on. Toni Collette is excellent as Joni Thrombey as Harlan’s daughter-in-law who is an influencer and guru who is a suspect due to failing business ventures as she is also someone who believes in a more healthy lifestyle. Don Johnson is brilliant as Harlan’s son-in-law Richard Drysdale as Linda’s husband who helps run his wife’s company as he becomes upset with Harlan over a discovery relating to Richard. Michael Shannon is amazing as Walter Thrombey as Harlan’s youngest son who runs his father’s publishing company as he walks with a cane due to an injured foot while having issues with his father over his plans that conflict with Walter’s ideas for his dad’s novels. Jamie Lee Curtis is incredible as Harlan’s eldest daughter in Linda who is suspicious about what happened to her father while becomes troubled by some of the revelations relating to her father’s will.
Christopher Plummer is marvelous as Harlan Thrombey as a crime novelist who is at the center of the story as a man who cares deeply for Marta but also has concerns about his family where he makes some decisions that would upset them while his own death remains a mystery. Chris Evans is remarkable as Ransom Thrombey as Linda and Richard’s son who is the black sheep of the family that likes to cause trouble as he was first seen walking out of his grandfather’s office angrily where he reveals to have issues with his family about their possible inheritance as it’s a darkly comical performance from Evans who gets to steal the show at times. Daniel Craig is phenomenal as Benoit Blanc as a Southern private investigator who is hired by someone he has no clue about as he is trying to figure out what is going on as well as lead the investigation where he is aware that something is off where Craig is funny but also someone who is smart and is aware of his own flaws. Finally, there’s Ana de Armas in a tremendous performance as Marta Cabrera as Harlan’s caretaker who is a kind-hearted woman that helps Harlan in a lot of ways while is becoming a suspect over what happened to him as she also gets into greater trouble as it relates to Harlan’s wishes where de Armas is a revelation in displaying a woman’s innocence as well as her inability to lie without puking.
Knives Out is a spectacular film from Rian Johnson that features great performances from Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Christopher Plummer, and Daniel Craig. Along with its ensemble cast, suspenseful screenplay, evocative setting, and Nathan Johnson’s sumptuous score. It’s a whodunit that manages to have a lot of twists and turns while being filled with interesting characters and situations that are engaging and full of delight. In the end, Knives Out is a sensational film from Rian Johnson.
Rian Johnson Films: Brick - The Brothers Bloom - Looper - Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
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