Released: 28th November
Seen: 23rd November (Advance Screening)
One of my favourite films of all time is the immortal Clue, the camp murder mystery based on the board game of the same name… in the states, in Australia it was named Cluedo for reasons I don’t understand. Everything about it makes me so happy from its quotable dialogue to the crazy camp characters to the luscious set that just begs you to enjoy every element of it. The film is a cult classic but it contains one massive flaw… no way in hell could you actually solve that thing. It has three different endings and all of them rely on information the audience never gets until the moment Wadsworth starts running around and telling everyone who did it. For years I was waiting for a movie to come around with great dialogue, crazy fun characters and a murder mystery that actually feels solvable as the plot comes out… and Rian Johnson clearly heard my plea because he made that exact film and I love it so much.
Knives Out takes place shortly after noted crime novelist Harlan Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) 85th birthday. It was a lovely party and everyone was happy right up until the next morning when Harlan is found dead in his study from a slit throat. Naturally, the police have to come to investigate and they bring along with them Private Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) who was mysteriously hired to solve the case of who murdered Harlan, knowing it has to be someone in the family that has a lot more secrets than it cares to admit.
From start to finish this film is a joy to watch, slowly crafting this intricate mystery that the audience could easily solve moments before Benoit does. If you’re paying attention and think it through, you will work out just who is responsible for Harlan’s death. The extra brilliance comes in where the film tells you how Harlan dies at around a third of the way in, just flat out shows how he died and trusts the audience to stick with them after that to figure out what lead to that death. I know I’m being a bit vague, I don’t want to spoil a single second of the mystery for you but it’s the kind of mystery where you can solve it, it has a definitive answer at the very end and everything builds up to that moment. It never changes course, it’s not trying to do something particularly shocking but it’s so well crafted that the second they say who it is then all the pieces slip into place and you see how it had to lead there.
The mystery is aided by an incredible cast, probably the best cast of any movie out this year. Daniel Craig is a genuine delight and perfect protagonist for this kind of movie. I genuinely want an entire murder-mystery series following the adventures of Benoit Blanc. Chris Evans as Ransom is so fun, you can tell Evans is having the time of his life getting to finally portray a total bastard after a decade as Captain America. Jamie Lee Curtis gives a performance that can best be described as “A Jamie Lee Curtis special” where she is tougher than anyone else in the room and won’t hesitate to let them know it, she’s perfect. Toni Collette as a ditzy lifestyle guru is everything I never knew I always wanted. Michael Shannon continues to prove that he’s one of the most versatile character actors in Hollywood with a brilliant performance of his own. Literally, every single cast member is so good that I could gleefully spend a thousand words praising every single person individually but I won’t. Heck, I haven’t even brought up the best performance in the entire film.
The film itself basically belongs to Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s nurse and the daughter of an illegal immigrant. Not only does she provide the emotional centre of this film, her character quirk of “vomiting whenever she tells a lie” allows for some of the best comedic moments in the film and possibly the best reveal of information I’ve seen in a long time. She’s genuinely brilliant, having to be the one sane person in a cast of crazies isn’t easy and she does it perfectly. I can’t praise her enough because she really does give the film a great core to work around… and really lets them lean into the not-even-subtle message behind this film.
Yep, even with a massive murder mystery tale that should handle all the work, the film takes the time to fit in a political message about immigration among the insanity. See, turns out a large part of why this family sucks so much is that a lot of them are just awful racist assholes, including the youngest child who spends most of the time on his phone being a pathetic online troll. It’s blistering witnessing these characters slowly reveal themselves as just awful people, the only actually good person in the entire bunch of them is Marta who has to deal with hearing all the attacks on immigrants. They call out so many horrors of modern racism and just make it clear as hell how vile it is. If you’re one of those people who don’t like politics in your art… well, in general, you should just stop looking at art because all good art is in some way political, but this one is extra political and unashamed about it.
This might be Rian Johnson’s best work, it’s so tightly planned and creative that I won’t be shocked to hear about it come awards season. The script is hilarious, so many great lines of dialogue and when the time comes to reveal the killer… oh god, there is one major information reveal that had me literally applauding because it was so perfect. Every element just works, my only complaint might be that it’s not an hour longer so I could spend more time watching these comically awful people tear themselves apart. When the big critique is “I want it to be even longer” that’s when you know that there’s something special going on here.
Knives Out is that rare film that I’m confident anyone could enjoy. It’s funny, it’s clever, it’s subversive and it’s just one hell of a ride. Everything I wanted is here, and they threw in a few sweaters just to make me extra comfy. The best cast to appear in a film this year, one of the most engaging stories of the year and just one of the best films of the year. Go see it, it’s a genuine delight of a film that’s completely original and absolutely perfect. I can’t say enough good things about it, though I have a feeling that in a month I’m going to need to say a few more good things because it’s so good I might have to bring it up again.