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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

March 31, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Review: Sharp performances bring edge to film

Knives Out

Media Rights Capital

Which celebrity killed Christopher Plummer in “Knives Out”? Was it Michael Shannon or Jamie Lee Curtis? Perhaps it was Don Johnson, LaKeith Stanfield or Katherine Langford. Maybe it was even Captain America himself, Chris Evans. If director Rian Johnson decided this would be a fun game to play on the big screen, he was right. Johnson’s latest film is an old-fashioned whodunit story that pits the wealthy Thrombey family against the famous investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he tries to uncover the mystery behind Harlan Thrombey’s (Plummer) murder. The film is a dark comedy that manages to balance comedic and suspenseful elements perfectly.

Off the back of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” a film that divided the “Star Wars” fan base down the middle, Johnson is back. Johnson was criticized for writing an unfocused story after “The Last Jedi” was released, but “Knives Out” does not have the same problem. The story is simultaneously old-timey and fresh because it tells an original story while using classic tropes. The film is masterfully written, as every clue throughout the film comes together for a satisfying conclusion.

Johnson is known for creating a fun atmosphere on set, something that comes across in the antics of the film. The film is a wacky ride that continues the popular trend of intermingling comedy and suspense, perfected by directors like Jordan Peele with “Get Out” or Bong Joon-ho with “Parasite.” While this film is suspenseful in a less serious way than Peele’s or Bong’s, the balance of comedy and drama is still relevant. It’s tough to nail down a signature trait of Johnson’s work. Typically this might mean his vision is unclear, but Johnson’s work is so compelling that his ability to be a chameleon is a skill rather than a weakness.

The film is shot in a way that makes it feel like the story exists in a heightened reality. The colors pop off the screen, and the environment appears almost too clean to be real. The film’s aesthetic resembles a board game, similar to movies like “Clue” or “Game Night.” The camera also stays on a tripod for much of the film, often panning rather than moving on a dolly, adding to this uncanny feeling. This type of camerawork is similar to the work of director Ari Aster, invoking the same uncanny and sinister feelings. The performances are also heightened to an extreme, which adds to the cartoonish look.

The strongest aspect of the film is the performances given from the starstudded cast. Every performance is phenomenal, but there are four actors who give career-changing performances. Toni Collette gives one of the funniest performances in the film as Joni Thrombey, a woman with a cosmetics company similar to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Colette’s comedic chops and relevant social commentary make her the most memorable of the side characters. Chris Evans has a prominent role in the film, marking his first onscreen appearance since he finished as Captain America. Evans’ portrayal of Ransom Drysdale is shocking and brash as he insults his way through conversations. Ransom could not be more different from the character Steve Rogers, and it’s wonderful to see Evans has not lost his range.

Ana de Armas has one of the most prominent roles in the film, and her performance as Marta Cabrera gives the audience a perfect paragon to oppose Ransom’s renegade nature. De Armas carries the film on her back, and it’s easy to root for her because Cabrera is one of two characters in the film with a strong moral compass. 

Blanc, played by Craig, is the only other character with any sense of morality. Craig’s bombastic Cajun private investigator elevates “Knives Out” to new heights. From his absurd accent to his incredible smarts and mysterious behavior, Benoit keeps the viewer’s eyes glued to the screen every time he is on it.

“Knives Out” is a film that continues Johnson’s legacy as a writer and director, proving that there is no genre he cannot master. It is a film about greed and how it can twist the minds of those who want more than they need. Not only is the message poignant, but “Knives Out” thrills the audience as it tries to uncover who’s done it.