“Knives Out” (2019) is not a film that deserves a whole lot of conversation, but a conversation about why it shouldn’t be receiving so much conversation might be in order. With an original script, a reputable director, an expensive and experienced cast, a solid production— it’s entertaining. It fiercely adheres to the tropes of a whodunnit, and plays with our expectations self-referentially. Otherwise it wouldn’t be fun. Daniel Craig takes on an unusually comedic role and the plot is properly convoluted, as any good murder mystery should be. Those who complain about the lack of mid-tier mainstream films should be quelled by this release, but it ends up feeling a bit hollow. The film checks off plenty of boxes throughout its runtime yet never really manages to satisfy any one specific movie-going desire: spectacle, horror, grit, drama…Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” is fun while it lasts, but ultimately is just okay.
The mediocre evaluation that I have offered so far that so far to describe the film might suggest that I didn’t enjoy the film. I did enjoy it, for a while. It’s only that, as time passes and I ask myself exactly why I liked it, I eventually come up with fewer and fewer reasons. At times its self-awareness is too sharp, the irony of their situation is too on the nose and some of the performances are occasionally overacted. This is especially interesting because I don’t consider myself to have very demanding taste—I actually liked the new “Star Wars”—and “Knives Out” has consistently ranked surprisingly high on online rating systems such as IMDb (8/10) and Metacritic (82).
As a point of comparison, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” fulfills the need for spectacle instead of hinting at it, and its breakneck pace can be chalked up to the fact that it is an action film. (Not to mention that J.J. Abrams had to, unfortunately, resolve the disaster that Rian Johnson had previously made in “The Last Jedi”). “Knives Out” often moves just as quickly as “Rise of Skywalker,” but such pacing is less suited to the mystery genre, which does not really benefit from speeding toward the end. Just when things should be slowing down, the plot gets faster.
The tension of eking out the culprit benefits from evolving as a careful consideration of facts, thus giving the individual scenes, as well as the audience, time to breathe. The plot of “Knives Out” might actually be too complicated for its two-hour runtime, although it could have cut corners in the beginning so that later on, when twist after twist after twist piles on, the editing can keep a more comprehensible rhythm.
Some praiseworthy elements are the witty writing and crisp, darkly-lit cinematography. Themes of immigration and class servitude are welcome conversations to the film, although I understand anyone who says that they are a little forced. And regardless of the slight overacting, the vast majority of what carries this film until the end is an A-list collection of actors: Ana de Armas, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis.
Caveat: speculation is easy. And I fear that this review might have become not a review of the film itself, but of the fact that everyone loves it, or how the film performs with regards to its contemporaries, which is never a truly honest critique. Just watch this on a Saturday night with your family, a night where you all agree that you don’t want to watch something stupid, but also don’t want to watch something that would be out of place on the small screen, where nothing terrible is missed should someone fall asleep. It simply might be a case of an appropriate malapropism: the sum of these parts is greater than the whole.