RogerBW's Blog

Knives Out (2019) 10 August 2023

2019 whodunnit, dir. Rian Johnson, Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas: IMDb / allmovie. The rich old man is stabbed after his 85th birthday party; whodunnit?

As may be obvious from a casual reading of my reviews, I'm something of a fan of murder mysteries. But I generally favour the written over the filmed form; apart from my genral preference for the medium, in a book you can have an extended prose passage of someone telling the detective what happened (some of which may be false); in a film, you can't just show someone talking (fun as that might be), you have to have an actual flashback, and to falsify that you need to show something other than what happened… which can rapidly end up going full Rashomon, and Rashomon has been done.

So it's interesting to see that problem handled well here. Early shots of Harlan blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, as described by each of his dependents to put themselves in the centre of the action, make it clear that we can't necessarily trust what we see in a flashback; meanwhile, Marta's inability to lie without vomiting feels like a narrative contrivance to establish the one person whose account you can actually believe, and to some extent it is… but it's played with later, as part of the blackmail plot and in the resolution, rather than just being a thing one has to accept.

This is a good technical murder mystery: any of them could have done it, all of them had motives (at least based on what they knew at the time). Ana de Armas has a lot to carry – and the last thing I saw her in was Blade Runner 2040 which was a performance that wouldn't encourage me to cast her again – but she bears up and acts a lot better here. Daniel Craig is clearly enjoying a break from having to be Dark Gritty James Bond (though he'd do one more of those after making this) and his utterly unconvincing Southern accent is everything that I was promised. It's always good to see Jamie Lee Curtis, and Christopher Plummer makes the most of relatively small parts.

The only thing that feels slightly out of place for me is the accidental confession and what fallows – when the story should be gathering pace into the final act, it slows down and introduces extra complicatoins. On the other hand, this film manages the trick of employing a mystery element I haven't encountered before: crefhnqvat n cngfl gung gurl ner npghnyyl thvygl, fb gurl'yy pbyyhqr va qrfgeblvat rivqrapr juvpu gurl guvax cbvagf gb gurz ohg npghnyyl cbvagf gb gur erny xvyyre.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

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