Knives Out

Knives Out ★★★★

it’s amazing how, for a movie that’s been billed as a whodunnit, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is everything but that. we’re not made to search for a culprit because the principal “mystery” has been solved in the first 20 minutes of the film. there’s no “who” because we’ve been shown it. as much as the phrase “subverting expectations” is thrown around carelessly — applied to movies not even worthy of our expectations — Knives Out feels like the perfect encapsulation of the term. 

the reason this film works (and works so well) is because Johnson conditions us to play a game vastly different from the one he’s created. he leaves us with the satisfaction of a murder whose loose ends are tied in a pretty little bow, so that we can begin to search for a puzzle that isn’t even there. as the audience, we feel lofty because we know (or think we know) something the characters don’t, and are certain to find out only at the end. whodunnits work because every character is a suspect; but what do you do when the film is from the point of view of the character that isn’t a suspect, but the very culprit?

turns out we’re just as oblivious as the alleged murderer themselves, and that in itself is the most beautiful plot twist of all — a twist that would’ve fallen flat if Johnson did not have the skill to masterfully weave us into his insane world, building a puzzle filled with equal-parts funny and melodramatic characters, a visceral score blurring our ability to even reason, and a script so airtight, that it serves as a reminder why you find it hard to breathe through the movie.

i’m sorry to say, but a movie like this should not work in 2020. a movie like this should not be this effective. it’s been done so many times that every twist in the book has been straightened out and ironed flat. but Rian Johnson asks us to hold his beer while he works his magic. and his magic is effective; the madness and suspense forces us to hold his beer so tight that the glass breaks in our grip, the shards piercing so deep with cutting political subtext and context, and then he relieves the tension by indulging us with a final sequence and scene that seals the film’s fate as a true work of art.

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