I love how Rian Johnson took the “keep your politics out of my movies” trolls from THE LAST JEDI and basically composed an entire narrative commentating on the negative impact of people of this nature, through the lens of one of the most entertaining films of 2019. Talk about a legendary power move.
This cast is so ridiculously fantastic that it should not be legal. The word “charismatic” does not even scratch the surface when referring to the outstanding talents on screen. Johnson brought together nearly a dozen of the biggest names in the business, from past, present, (and future) generations, writing and directing each character with marvelous savvy, zeal, and attention to detail. Quite frankly, it is hard to imagine that KNIVES OUT is only the fifth feature film from Johnson. This is the caliber of work one would expect from a seasoned veteran with multiple Oscar wins under his belt. On the contrary, Johnson is just getting started.
Love him or hate him for certain storytelling decisions he made in the STAR WARS universe, Johnson is undeniably an extremely gifted filmmaker who has a total blast with his creations. This wonderful energy is felt throughout the whole cast and crew as well. Daniel Craig’s character, Detective Benoit Blanc, is an outrageously goofy, silly, and over-the-top caricature, with his thick Southern drawl, quirky antics, and kooky shenanigans. But, the screenplay leans heavily into all of these tropes, owning every delicious, satirical moment with unrestrained gusto. Other figures in the story, such as Chris Evans’ nincompoop, jerk, moron, imbecile (take your pick) of a character, Ransom Drysdale, are equally as preposterous and stereotypical as Detective Blanc. Yet, once again, the script is fully aware of this cartoonish nature. And, as a result, all of the punches land.
But, if we are truly talking about knock-out blows, Ana de Armas is the real heavyweight champ. Her performance is far and away the most well-rounded, and dare I say, Oscar-worthy. Armas’ character, Marta Cabrera, is the primary driving point for the crux of the narrative, which is more than simply a “Griswold Family Murder-Mystery,” but also a scathing social and political commentary that takes aim at such issues as immigration, white privilege, and classism. And boy, does Armas deliver. There is something so lovely, pure, enchanting, and authentically unique about her performance, that I cannot see any other actress possibly portraying this character. Armas truly made this role her own. She is one of the brightest up-and-coming actresses in the business today. After seeing her carry so much of the load in KNIVES OUT with masterful proficiency, I cannot wait to witness the trajectory of her career from here on out.
As for the cinematography from long-time Johnson collaborator, Steve Yedlin, it is every bit as ostentatious as the story and characters. Unsurprisingly, this meshes beautifully with the film as a whole. The camera motion, framing, lighting techniques, and color grading are all extravagant, grandiose, and high-faluting. There is nothing subtle about it. The production design (David Crank) and editing (Bob Ducsay) complement Yedlin’s visual language splendidly. Still, this perfectly aligns with the tone of the film. KNIVES OUT knows perfectly well that it is heavy-handed in its overall style and flair, and it basks in this glorious absurdity with indulgent delight.
Does KNIVES OUT perhaps become a little bit too ambitious at certain points with its wild plot twists and rug-pulls? Sure. But does that take away from the comprehensive wizardry displayed by Rian Johnson, the spectacular ensemble cast, and each and every crew member on the film? Not by any means. Believe the hype about KNIVES OUT. I had a massive, stupid smile across my face for practically all 130 minutes of the runtime, and I think you will too.