Knives Out (Rian Johnson, 2019, USA)

            Knives Out is a rollicking throwback to the ensemble whodunnits of yesteryear. At once timeless and timely, Rian Johnson’s latest manages to capture genre conventions while at the same time subverting them. The film also demonstrates his versatility as a director – in a time where auteurs seem relegated to making similar films over and over again, Johnson recalls the visionaries of the old Hollywood studio system who could handle multiple genres with aplomb. 
            Johnson and his collaborators bring on the atmosphere heavily and early on, introducing us to the mansion of mystery writer Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer).  The set design here is excellent, recalling photographic challenge books. Collaborators cinematographer Steve Yedlin and composer Nathan Johnson also bring excellent atmosphere to the proceedings. The initial interviews with the Thrombley family – shortly following his murder – set the tone for what is to come. The characters as in most whodunnits are larger than life. At the same time, Johnson is always careful to keep the story within the realm of believability. The main exception to this is a plot device involving Thrombley’s nurse, played by Ana de Armas. 
            Clocking in at over two hours, Knives Out could be tighter, and yet it is never boring. This is mainly due to the clever writing, but also the ensemble cast – all of whom are pitch-perfect. Even minor supporting characters are memorable, such as Mr. Proofroc – played by M. Emmet Walsh, a character actor who seems to have been transported from the era of films Johnson has taken inspiration from.
            While the film does reflect the socio-political atmosphere (at one point a heated debate over immigration occurs), the film seems keen to skewer all sides of the spectrum. While Johnson is not necessarily rewriting the playbook with Knives Out, his latest outing is a genuinely enjoyable film with a lot of style and panache.

7/10

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