de facto film reviews 3 stars

by Ben Rothrock

The Thrombey family is about as dysfunctional as the term gets. Headed by successful mystery author Harlan (Christopher Plummer), his children and grandchildren do nothing but leech off of his immense wealth, each using it for their own selfish reasons. The only one not doing this is Harlan’s foreign nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), who seems to be his only friend in the world. All this comes to an end one morning, when Harlan is found dead by a servant.

Everyone is quick to call it a suicide. Even the police officers assigned to the case are ready to leave the case solved. But one person isn’t so sure, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been summoned to the case by a mysterious source that he is determined to find. He begins to suspect that the family isn’t telling him the whole truth, and soon the truth comes out as it becomes clear there is more going on under the surface.

Knives Out may be working off a well-worn formula, but like its own central mystery, there is much more going on than it appears. It begins as a fun and funny homage to the whodunnit genre, before completely morphing into an incredibly hilarious and unpredictable mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end, which is a tough feat in a genre with so much classics to its name.

A lot of the film’s success comes from its perfectly assembled cast. Not only is everyone perfectly chosen for their roles, but they have an amazing chemistry between each other. Their various arguments hold you to the screen. They genuinely feel like a family at war with each other rather than just a collection of actors and actresses on a set reading from a script. To assemble a large cast like this and make them seem like they’ve known each other for years is no easy task, but this film pulls it off.

It was nice, and very entertaining, to watch Daniel Craig play a character that is pretty much the polar opposite of James Bond. Detective Blanc is about as American as you could get, with a strong Southern twang in his voice and a slew of American cultural references. And he manages to pull it off with flying colors. His performance is so vibrant and enthusiastic that he’s worthy of standing next to the great detectives of literature, like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes.

Another surprisingly engrossing performance comes from Ana de Armas. She’s played a wide variety of roles throughout her career, and this one really stands out. She actually has a bigger role in the film than the trailers suggest, and that really gives her space to stretch her legs and fall into her character. Hopefully this leads to larger and larger roles for her, because she has shown her potential to play different kinds of characters.

However, the best performance of the entire cast has to go to Chris Evans. His portrayal of the trust-fund reliant, Ransom, is without a doubt the best performance of his entire career (yes, even better than Captain America). He has the best lines of dialogue and his jokes throughout the film generate the biggest laughs. It’s refreshing that, just like Craig, he played a character that was the complete opposite of what he’s been doing recently, and he very much succeeds.

All of this is perfectly held together by the filmmaker at the helm; writer/director Rian Johnson. Coming off his hugely successful journey with The Last Jedi, he’s finally back to doing original films, and it’s great. Here, he’s crafted a film that has its own look and feel. His directing is very stylish, and his screenplay works off its inspiration without ever stealing from it. This is certainly one of the best written and directed studio films to come out this year.

Knives Out feels old fashioned while also feeling new and polished. It has everything we love from the whodunnit genre while expertly infusing modern sensibilities to create a lovable blend of laughs and thrills. It also features a central mystery that, despite running you through the basic tropes of the genre, manages to keep you guessing until the big reveal at the end. All in all, Rian Johnson continues to show off his talents, and that he’s still only tapping into the potential of his style.