Two Cents Film Club Investigates KNIVES OUT

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick:

The star-studded whodunnit certainly wasn’t ‘dead’ when writer-director Rian Johnson trotted out his riff on the genre last year. In 2017, Kenneth Branagh and his double-decker mustache enjoyed a low-key hit with his new version of Murder on the Orient Express, enough so that a sequel is expected later this year (hopefully).

Still, Knives Out couldn’t help but feel like a throwback to a long-lapsed style of movie. From the stuffed ensemble playing wacky suspects (Chris Evans! Jamie Lee Curtis! Michael Shannon! Toni Collette! Don Johnson!) to the big spooky mansion where all the murderous deeds take place, to the loquacious detective who’s going to put it all together with a massive final monologue.

But Johnson had a few tricks up his sleeves. And whereas audiences remain divided by his subversive tricks in the likes of The Last Jedi, they showed up for Knives Out in droves, eager for the opportunity to have the rug pulled out from under their feet.

The intrepid investigator this time out is Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig with a Foghorn Leghorn drawl. The murder victim is esteemed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) a beloved mystery writer who is discovered the morning after his birthday party with a slit throat, the bloody knife in hand. Convinced that there is more to the case than simple suicide, Blanc enlists Thrombey’s trusted nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) to help him discover the truth, all while Harlan’s squabbling heirs hustle for the inheritance.

Knives Out is the kind of mid-budget word-of-mouth hit that studios and the more despairing breed of film fan like to insist can’t be made anymore. Along with its box office success, the film also scored an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay (it lost to Parasite which… fair). Johnson and Craig spent the entire press tour for this one openly discussing their desire to keep going with more Benoit Blanc adventures, and last we heard we can expect at least one sequel following the southern-fried gumshoe.

Next Week’s Pick

Well regarded but underseen, Robert Townsend’s Tinseltown satire Hollywood Shuffle chronicles the challenges of navigating the movie biz, specifically from the viewpoint of a black man trying to get ahead while being a positive role model and avoiding portrayals of harmful stereotypes. The comedy leaves Amazon Prime at the end of the month, so this is our way of encouraging our readers to get in on this one while you can.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

Some movies are deliciously re-watchable. Some are so rewarding of repeat viewings that you’ll fine cleverly hidden details years after you initially saw it. But it takes a certain special something for a film to have an entirely different emotional impact after your first go round, to the point where knowing what’s going on is like getting the ultimate backstage pass.

Enter…Benoit Blanc.

Rian Johnson Knows. His. Shit. Not just in terms of reference pools or genre rules or trope-y tools of murderous fools, but he knows how to play (and how to take care of) an audience. Hes talked at length about how Knives Out morphs from whodunit to thriller and then back onto a whodunit — giving the audience a whirlwind emotional ride — but when you see the wheels after that final library reveal scene? Well, it turns into one of the most satisfying comedies in recent memory.

Because Johnson is so good at writing interesting and empathetic characters, there’s a lot of Knives Out that’s pretty harrowing, even if you don’t have some of the same lived experiences that make various threats to characters we love so effective. The intent of the film is to put you on the edge of your seat as the desire to see someone get away with something clashes with the rules that the detective will always figure it out. It remains enjoyable because of tight pacing and plentiful comedy, but it can still be somewhat exhausting.

Until you go back for seconds. Then, the way Johnson has so carefully laid out everything inside the frame, packed the dialogue and body language with obvious clues, it’s like watching Die Hard where only the viewer knows exactly what everyone is doing and has more information than everyone else. It’s empowering, exhilarating, and *incredibly* fucking funny. If you took notes, you’d get a full course on narrative setup and payoff, character introductions, reversals, and thematic consistency.

But who wants to take notes when this thing is so damn fun? (@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Brendan Foley:

I’ve loved every Rian Johnson movie so far, but I also come away from each film feeling like there’s just…something…missing. There’s one scene that stands out like it should’ve been cut, or one element that seems like it’s been misjudged, or some other niggling, annoying concern that doesn’t spoil the whole dish but keeps me giving it a complete full-throated seal of approval (example: Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars movie, but any time I rewatch it [which is often!] I fast-forward right through Casino World).

Knives Out, though? It just works. From the opening shot to the final punchline, it is pure candy. Johnson plays this genre like a fiddle, knowing precisely when to play by the rules and when to overturn the entire board and leave you completely un-moored. The entire cast is locked in with the tone he’s going for, and as such the comedy is always funny, the thrills are always thrilling, and you truly get caught up in the tangled fortunes of these lunatics who could so easily have been simply broad types.

The best thing that can be said about Knives Out is that the film is infinitely rewatchable even once you’ve seen the solution and have gone back and picked up every clue. The characters and their volleying off one another are so entertaining, the mystery almost doesn’t need a solution to be entirely satisfying. But it does and it rules. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw:

Murder mysteries are a tough balance to get right, especially to audiences who have seen it all: we know the tropes, expect the twists, and can spot the red herrings and false signals. Too basic, and it’s obvious. On the other hand, some whodunnits get so wrapped up in their own labyrinthine maneuvering that the audience doesn’t have half a chance to keep up.

What makes Knives Out feel so special — and I think it was one of last year’s most entertaining films — is that it manages to nail that. The story is exhilarating and fun, and shifting in unexpected by clever ways which feel like genuinely great twists rather than random monkey wrench change-ups.

Knives Out doesn’t cheat: it plays by the rules and wins the game.The protagonists are easy to love, the suspects easy to hate, and the mystery a pleasure to watch unfold. (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick: Hollywood Shuffle

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