Rating: 3 out of 5
You can’t satisfy everyone. Movies can be equally inclusive as they can be alienating. Someone is always going to feel outside of the conversation if they don’t “get” it. Knives Out is a movie I suspect will be impossible not to “get”, and for this reason, is one of the strongest entries into the holiday-family-comedy-drama in recent memory. There’s something for each member of the family in this film, the humor touches on a myriad of important topics and current cultural debates that don’t feel allied with any particular agenda. Under the guise of the whodunit-genre, Rian Johnson captures the tension and discomfort that can arise during large family gatherings; the ideologies that simmer under polite conversations until they inevitably erupt in arguments and year-long grudges. Johnson has made the strongest film of his career thus far, albeit, not without many of the shortcomings that have plagued his work since his debut feature, Brick.
The setup of Knives Out is arguably it’s weakest link, the protagonists involvement with the murder is rather contrived and while the interviews and “unreliable narrator” segment establish the fabulous chemistry between characters, they distract from the focus of the narrative. Despite the occasionally clunky script the performances are so inspired and lovable they overshadow an otherwise awkward pacing. There are too many familiar faces in this picture to make a coherent list but Toni Collette and Daniel Craig (regardless of his less than effortless southern accent) are in peak-form here, their mannerisms so perfectly reflect the archetypes these characters are intended to embody, leaving one to wonder whether or not stale archetypes in other releases are the fault of writers or actors.
The procedural section of the movie is an absolute delight. The performances are uniformly joyful, it reminds one, that acting, can in fact, be extremely fun. What makes this lengthy section so outstandingly enjoyable is lead actress Ana De Armas’ performance as the South American nurse Marta Cabrera. When her character is finally pulled back into focus she is afflicted by a certain ailment that colors the film with a constant risk. Her unease throughout the investigation is fabulously executed in both performance and scripting. She is the backbone of the films finest sequences and the ultimate triumph of the enduring spirit of her character is lovely, warm, and resonant.
Knives Out is an enjoyable film, but it’s not a terribly original one. Every pleasure that exists in this film can be extracted or endured in some other film going experience. Johnson has never been the most unique filmmaker, Looper longed to be as shocking as a 12 Monkeys or a Primer, Brick wanted so desperately to be a legitimate film-noir, and The Last Jedi attempted with exhausting effort to be a Star Wars-film. New ideas don’t seem to be his strong suit, which in the case of, Knives Out, mostly works, it’s not the most memorable film but it has enough balance, craft and care to be a genuinely engaging narrative, which is a first for him in his now five-film catalog.
Knives Out reassured many of my fears and skepticisms about Johnson while clearing the air of those that were perhaps unfounded. Johnson has yet to make a great movie, but for now, we have this pretty good one, and that’s okay. He’s not a filmmaker looking to reinvent the wheel or inject new life into old genres, rather, he has a wealthy knowledge of film-history and aesthetics while lacking a strong voice of his own. The excitement in Knives Out is that we are allowed glimpses and brief insights into the cinematic-language he’s now developing for himself and one day could be his. The least revelatory and most bland segments are those that can be lived in other films, the profound and even dangerous moments were those of ingenuity, tasteful writing and charismatic performance. Knives Out is incredible family-fun even if it’s not particularly new.