Knives Out

Confession. I stayed away from this film for a long time because of its writer/director, Rian Johnson. Even when dear friends saw this film and reported it was a lot of fun, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it because of Johnson’s involvement. Johnson being, after all, the guy who ruined modern Star Wars.

Some may roll their eyes after reading that. Some may punch the air. I don’t care which side of the fence you’re on. For me, personally, Johnson did the unforgiveable thing of being handed the middle part of a Star Wars trilogy – some might say the key part – and both ignored most of the set-ups from the first film and left very little for the third film to work with. As a result that third film, The Rise of Skywalker, had to kick-start a new story from scratch. And it was bloody silly as a consequence.

So ultimately Johnson was responsible for not only making a bad Star Wars film that didn’t ‘play ball’ (as our American cousins would say), with the rest of the series, but forced its third installment into some really weird territory. The third film knew it too; inserting a few FUs of its own towards things Johnson brought to series. Now, with the distance of some years since then, people can try and pontificate on, “What Rian was trying to say…” and “Why Rian did what he did…” but for me, it’s simple. Johnson had the middle part of a trilogy to make. He should have taken what was given to him and worked with it, and then set up the third film. He did neither. I’ve felt he’s an idiot ever since.

And yet… I’ve still always wanted to see Knives Out. This weekend I finally gave in. There it was, sitting on Netflix, and starring an ensemble cast of actors I really enjoy. “Oh, what the hell…” I thought.

Cards on the table, this is a very entertaining film. Daniel Craig, putting on an, “is it good, or is it bad, I really can’t tell” southern US accent as private detective Benoit Blanc, is a delight. And the case he’s given to investigate – where we are shown a good portion of what really happened while he’s still investigating it, yet there’s ultimately a twist in the tail – is genuinely quite clever and fun to watch.

Of course, watching from 2021, we now see Craig spending a lot of screen time with Ana de Armas in this, knowing that they will share a little screen time in his final James Bond adventure, No Time to Die as well. But at the time, this wouldn’t have even been a twinkle in Cary Fukunaga’s eye.

I mentioned the ensemble cast in this piece and when you consider names like Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, and even relative Aussie newcomer, Katherine Langford (who was big in the first series of 13 Reasons Why), this film isn’t lacking firepower. Throw in the fact they all play extended family members who hate one another and it’s just delicious. Evans’ “eat shit” scene had me genuinely laughing at how awful everyone was.

Naturally this is the kind of film where deep discussion of the plot could spoil it, and it really deserves to be seen in an unknown state. There were maybe one or two occasions where I thought, “Gosh, that was a little coincidental…” or “Wow, if the timing didn’t work there, this whole story would fall flat…” but I think that can be said of almost any tricksy kind of whodunnit out there. Even ones where you’re shown what happened almost from the start, like you are in Knives Out. So I can’t really complain.

I’m also not surprised that Johnson received an Academy Award nomination for his writing efforts on this film, nor the news that Netflix has ordered up two sequels, where the Blanc character will investigate other mysteries. I do wonder if lightning can strike twice, of course, let alone another time after that but we shall have to wait and see. If he gets other interesting ensembles to work with and delivers a fun mystery, perhaps it can. I actually sit here find myself rooting for him that it happens.

So, in the end, I find I’m still ropeable with what Johnson did with Star Wars and will probably never forgive him for that (the franchise being very dear to me since I first saw a Star Wars film in 1980 and wrecking the sequel trilogy has had a massive effect on the franchise as a whole), but I’ve also moved on sufficiently to wish him success on future projects and I hope Knives Out 2 and 3 are as fun to watch as this was. It’s maybe not a complete turnaround, but I think it’s a good place to be now.

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