“Knives Out” sharply upholds mind-bending script

Noah Levine

Throw away the Clue board — it’s time for a real mystery. 

“Knives Out” is a modern take on the classic whodunit' genre from director Rian Johnson (“Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi”, “Looper”). The film takes strides to reinvent the tried and true investigation story archetype with intriguing set design, compelling performances and ties to the modern political climate. After the mysterious death of famous author Harlan Thrombey, the eclectic Thrombey family is consumed into a high stakes investigation that leaves no stone unturned. 

Johnson’s nostalgic murder mystery stands out from the rest with its star-studded cast. “Knives Out” includes an impressive lineup of actors including Jamie Lee Curtis, Daniel Craig, Katherine Langford, LaKeith Stanfield, Chris Evans and Toni Collette.

Craig leads the film as detective archetype Benoit Blanc. His overly serious line delivery, combined with the dryness of his comedic dialogue, helps to convey Blanc as a classically styled investigator. Craig’s performance feels equally evocative of early-Hollywood noir detectives as it does to modern police dramas. 

Ana de Armas takes on a large role with her performance of housekeeper Marta. Her portrayal of an empathetic and determined character contrasts nicely with the grim reality of the film’s mystery. Marta is the daughter of an illegal immigrant at risk of deportation, which adds an extra dosage of power and satisfaction to her character’s arc. 

Standouts among the film’s unique grouping of suspects include a self-absorbed and fabricated Toni Collette, a cocky Chris Evans and a stern and critical Jamie Lee Curtis. Noah Segan, a trademark of Johnson’s films, wonderfully dishes out comedic relief in the role of Trooper Wagner. His geeky reactions and gestures in regards to the unfolding mystery are a delight. 

Johnson’s love letter to classic film mysteries takes place among a meticulously designed Victorian home. The set design includes uncanny wooden carvings, suffocating halls, dim lighting and even an extravagant sculpture made out of knives. The classic setting, paired with the advancements of the modern world, makes for a strange but visually interesting space for the characters to inhabit. As stated in the film, it looks as if it’s straight out the “Clue” game. 

“Knives Out” proves its uniqueness with a politically relevant case involving the daughter of an illegal immigrant. It explores the divide between the privileged and unprivileged through a series of unexpected events that cater toward the underdog. This tie-in to the modern political climate adds an additional weight and emphasis on the story’s plot.

Like every good mystery, “Knives Out” spins its web in several outlandish directions. The misdirection is endearing – until it becomes overly done. There's a point in the film where a significant plot point is revealed surprisingly early, resulting in a confusing and muddled change of course. Audience members will be left in a strange limbo where they are unsure of why they still need to be engrossed in the mystery. It's a bold choice that ultimately works in the end, yet the buildup to this catharsis within the film’s second half can feel a bit awkward and outlandish. 

“Knives Out” is a wonderfully nostalgic and entertaining film from Rian Johnson. The chaotic cast and beautiful set design help to uphold the ambitious script. 

3.5 Knives Out of 5