A Decent Murder Mystery In Desperate Need Of More Red Herrings
Eccentric patriarch Harlan Thrombey is dead. Suicide apparently but something is not quite right. A slit throat, a wealth of familial bad blood and an ongoing feud over Harlan’s Will. Is this all a coincidence? Or is there foul play involved? Step forward Knives Out.
This movie is a proper whodunit and a murder mystery that’s as endearing to watch as it is visually pleasing. While the reveal of the killer and the various twists and turns along the way are a bit obvious, the movie revels in its presentation and editing which are both exemplary.
Upon seeing the opening credits, you’d be forgiven for erring on the side of caution. Rian Johnson’s name will always be synonymous now with “that guy” who divided fans over his interpretation of Star Wars in The Last Jedi.
Split between those who loved and those who loathed the new direction in that movie (I admit I’m in the latter here), Johnson’s next project was always going to be met with a heavy dose of scrutiny.
Because of that, Knives Out then feels like a defiant self-aware showcase to prove the critics wrong and show how talented this filmmaker is. For that alone, this murder mystery cannot be faulted and is undoubtedly a riveting watch from start to finish.
What’s particularly enticing here though is just how much Knives Out feels like an old Agatha Christie or Poirot thriller. There’s a lot of potential suspects, a simple but effective string of clues and enough drip-feed reveals along the way to keep tensions high.
I won’t spoil anything here but suffice to say the glimpses of the past and what happened that night are a puzzle box unto itself. Johnson knows exactly how to keep audiences guessing.
Unfortunately that enthusiasm for guessing does slip up rather badly midway through the story. Savvy fans paying attention will probably piece together who the potential culprit is (or not!) through several choice pieces of dialogue and plot contrivances.
Meanwhile, certain characters feel like window dressing and are inadvertently written out the list of potential suspects. It’s a damn shame how under-utilized Jamie Lee Curtis is here as Linda while a few of the children don’t have very much to do other than reveal key pieces of evidence from that night.
To be fair though, this is probably exacerbated thanks to the all-star cast assembled for this one. Daniel Craig does his best Southern drawl as savvy police detective Benoit Blanc while Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson and Michael Shannon (to name a few) all lend their names to the blood relatives of the house.
The presentation and visual design of this movie do their best to make up for those shortfalls though. There’s a campy, playful feel to this one, accentuated by the quick cuts between characters early on and the constant visual motifs throughout.
Recurring imagery of knives and eyes show up throughout here, with the former hinting at a possible murder weapon while the latter feels like symbolism for watching and spying.
There’s also the subject of scene composition which feels suitably cluttered and the sporadic, off-the-cuff feel to this plays into the freeform Jazz dancing on the fringes of the screen; barely audible but just ticking away, picking up when needed to accentuate the drama.
Knives Out is a proper whodunit and a rare example of Hollywood delivering something altogether different from the sequel/prequel/remake merry-go-round the industry has devolved into.
I do appreciate the irony of saying this now, especially given the movie has been green-lit for a sequel (of course it has) but to be honest the ending does set it up nicely for another whodunit to play out.
While the film is not without its flaws, this murder mystery feels very much like a live action Cluedo playing out before our eyes. I mean that in the best possible way and Knives Out has the charm, charisma and all-star ensemble to pull it off spectacularly.
While the plot could have done with a few more red herrings and a couple of ambiguous clues to throw off the obvious scent of the killer, there’s enough here to carve a sizeable chunk of the whodunit pie. The result is something wholly delicious and almost certainly leaving you wanting more.
Verdict - 8/10