Five Clues for Enjoying KNIVES OUT

“This is a twisted web, and we are not finished untangling it, not yet.”

It may not have been part of the MCU, the Star Wars saga, or had Michelle Pfeiffer in it, but for my money, the year’s most anticipated movie has come out. Delighting and bewildering audiences as one of the most clever and enticing murder mysteries in the genre, Knives Out arrived just in time to save those who don’t necessarily want to return to the world of Frozen II. Audience AND critical reaction so far has been better than anyone could have anticipated for the movie, making it safe to say that everyone involved with it has got a solid sleeper hit on their hands.

For those unaware of any movie being released this month which ISN’T Frozen II, the plot of Knives Out concerns the untimely death of a wealthy mystery author (Christopher Plummer) and the Private Detective (Daniel Craig) who is convinced it was murder. With no shortage of suspects among the deceased’s family members (Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, and others), as well as the dead man’s loyal nurse (Ana de Armas), it’s up to the cunning detective to put the pieces together.

Knives Out is a ride; a treat for the active film lover who loves the thrill of the movie mystery where stars populate and act out a script which guides audiences down one garden path after another. While Jon’s well-written review of the movie can be found here, please enjoy the following few “clues” I put together which are all present in Knives Out, each one doing its part to help make the movie of the genre’s best entries.

  1. The Unusual Suspects

From just the opening first shots of the trailer, it’s clear that this is a star-studded affair as a collection of recognizable faces make up one of the most eclectic and exciting ensembles of the year. What’s even more impressive than the “wow, they’re in this?!” factor is just how well-rounded the cast of Knives Out is from a cinephile’s point of view. The movie can count representatives from most of the top genres within the industry. Horror queen Curtis, indie stalwart Collette, Marvel leading man Evans, up-and-comers de Armas and Lakeith Stanfield, dramatic power house Shannon, James Bond himself Craig, and film legend Plummer all bring their intricately written parts to life, proving just as much of a collective asset as the brilliant script they’ve been given to play with. That many different acting styles would naturally cause either competition for screentime or a uncoordinated mishmash of combustible chemistry. Thankfully, all show up to play, and not a one disappoints as they latch onto their characters and never let go.

2. Throwback Cinema

As his 2005 calling card Brick can attest, Knives Out writer/director Rian Johnson has not shied away from his strong and sincere love of classic whodunnits, which includes the likes of Clue and Murder by Death. With this effort (a passion project if there ever was one), Johnson manages the extremely tricky feat of making a film that is both a loving tribute and its own original entity. But it’s the throwback elements which are the more welcome sights to see here. There’s the old stately manor, the list of rowdy suspects, and multiple possible solutions to the crime at hand. The biggest reason films such as the aforementioned ones were so enticing was because of the highly self-contained feeling they all gave off. Knives Out replicates this beautifully, mixing in both fun and mayhem in a world that is completely its own.

3. The State of Things

The movie may wear its classic influences on its sleeves, but there’s never once mistaking Knives Out as anything other than a movie about today. Right and left are both represented in their current forms, and the movie takes ample time to show how the two sides flow throughout the self-contained world Johnson has created. One scene has dueling family members hashing out the hot-button topic of immigration in front of Marta (de Armas), a registered nurse who is labeled as “family,” before being handed an empty cake plate to clear away. The issue comes up again when her parents’ immigration status is used as a bargaining tool by another suspect. One of the more common traits among films such as Knives Out is how in the past most managed to more or less shy away from such real-world commentary, making it a safe place to escape from the outside world. Johnson doesn’t tarnish this feeling by talking about such issues thanks to the way he uses them as clever tools for both the mystery and the laughs.

4. Knives Out Knows the Secret

So much more goes into creating a solid murder mystery than just an enthralling puzzle which will keep the majority of audiences guessing for the space of 2 hours. The technical side of crafting a film like Knives Out takes the kind of skilled precision that is able to guide the mystery and decipher not only what the audience will anticipate, but also when to let them know the truth. It’s the live or die factor by which most titles such as this one are judged. Thankfully, Knives Out won’t be judged harshly in this arena. The movie’s pacing is at such a gentle but steady push, only amping up when the story and its characters deserve to be, while the movie’s sense of timing is on point, revealing clues at the most deliberate of moments without being too obvious. Finally, Knives Out gives credence to the idea that a movie is made in the editing room as the film is cut together with such care, reshaping scenes and character perspectives in the most clever of ways that totally transform what the audience thinks they’ve seen before.

5. Reading Between the Lines

I can’t imagine a more daunting, yet exhilarating screenwriting project than a murder mystery. The idea of taking to the keyboard channeling Agatha Christie and crafting a world full of suspects and concocting a mystery with the ultimate challenge of fooling your audience has to be virtually every other film scribe’s dream. Yet there must also be a pressure to deliver something in the arena which hasn’t necessarily been seen before. “The butler did it” could only work for so long before it had to become a convention, which may explain why this specific genre lays virtually dormant for long periods of time. Johnson’s screenplay proves that not only is he above any of the genre’s conventions, but also that there’s still more life to be found within the idea of gathering a bunch of people around a dead body and putting it all on the screen. The writer/director’s beautiful screenplay is layered and dense with plenty of twists and turns that take the story in a direction no one could foresee walking into the theater. More logic-based than a traditional whodunnit, Knives Out is less about “who” and “how” and more about “what” and “why,” gathering its answers through motives and methods less traditional than the ones found in the mysteries of old.

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