Review: Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out. Directed by Rian Johnson. Media Rights Capital, Lionsgate, 2019.

Special Note

It would feel ingenuine not to start this piece with an excited disclaimer that this is my first review on this blog. Perhaps every post I write from here on out will follow the same format, but it is more likely that my reviews will change and develop over time. As you may have seen on my very cute home page (you should know that Lizzo & Brené Brown have taught me well, and I’m a big fan of complimenting my own work in the name of self-love), I intend to review a new film each week. I plan to primarily review movies that have just premiered, but sometimes I’ll review shows that I’ve finally gotten the chance to stream, and sometimes I’ll review movies that I want to take another look at. Just as I have done with chicken nuggets, I’ve given a lot of my life to watching film and television. I’ve kept a media journal since 2010 and graded every film or television season I’ve seen in the past nine years. For that reason, I shall stick to what I know and assign each episode a grade from A+ to F. Now, enough of the logistics, let’s jump into the reviewing!

Premiere Impressions

            I’ve been looking forward to Rian Johnson’s latest film since I first heard that Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Chris Evans would be sharing the screen. Yes, the entire ensemble is filled with fabulous actors, but Curtis and Collette are two of my favorite actresses and Evans makes me feel things in a special way. I’ve been anxiously awaiting the sharp, stage adaptation-like banter and the whodunnit mystery the trailers have promised. Did the film deliver? Yes, though, not quite in the way I envisioned. Knives Out (2019) is a fun showcase for a wonderful cast that serves as a slap across the face of the entitled.

            Knives Out really shines when the action occurs in the Thrombey estate, where the talented cast get to really play with the eccentric characters they embody. The film centers on the Thrombey family, who, after uber-rich Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dies by suicide, have gathered in the late patriarch’s mansion. Or was it a suicide? The Southern-Poirot, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), paid to investigate under mysterious circumstances, questions the family, pairing up with Harlan’s nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) to find out how Harlan truly died. The investigation leads to hilarious sequences of family bickering, ignorance, and lies. As expected, each member of the line-up of veteran performers excels in their role. Craig, clearly meant to be in the showiest of roles, has a blast as Blanc. Especially in the later sequences, including a scene involving some donut-based monologuing, his energy really radiates off the screen. Evans, whose knit-sweater aesthetic is already iconic, excellently plays against type to brush off a bit of that Captain America goodness. For me, though, no one was as energizing to watch as Toni Collette’s Joni. Yes, as an example of internet influencer culture, the jokes made at the character’s expense might be easy but selling the character’s lines could not have been. The only disappointment from a cast so wonderful was that we got relatively little time to spend with each of them. After the first half, most of the ensemble is relegated to the background in favor of the team-up between Blanc and Marta. Now, for spoilers-reasons, it’s hard to explain just why their team-up takes precedence, but it did leave me wanting more of the family dynamics. For me, that’s where the script really shined—when the characters got to revel in snappy, stage-style dialogue.

            The benefit of the narrative shift, though, is the opportunity to watch Ana de Armas really shine on screen. I was relatively unfamiliar with her before watching the film, and I was excited to see an up-and-comer shine in a movie with such huge stars. The touching scenes between Armas and Plummer that demonstrate their friendship really got to me, and Armas played Marta’s selfless, caregiving nature with heart.

            Armas’s leading role also allows the narrative to really play up the Trump-era politics on display. Her character is, presumably, the only immigrant close to the family of superrich vultures who live on both sides of the aisle. A great recurring zing happens when multiple characters refer to Marta’s family as different Spanish-language countries. They don’t know where she’s actually from, but they’re proud of her “American Dream” background. She’s allowed to be a part of the family when discussing their pride, but not when it comes to actual family moments. Here, we get the film’s timely take on immigrant discourse. The American elite want the work of immigrants, but not for them to cross the boundary of being a part of the culture.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • I’ve never wished I was a white sweater more than while watching Chris Evans in this movie (to be fair, it did make me a different kind of white sweater)
  • “While the Nazi boy masturbated in the bathroom” is one of my favorite lines this year
  • Why do I want to try Joni’s FLAM wellness brand?

The Final Tea

            Our enjoyment of films is tied to the experience we have as we watch them, and I certainly may have been overgenerous with this film since I watched the film with about twenty close friends on my birthday. However, we weren’t the only audience members cheering throughout the film, even if we may have been the loudest (looking at you, Shayleigh). Overall, Knives Out is one of the most fun films of 2019 and I will certainly revisit it when it comes out on Blu-ray.

GRADE: A

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