Knives Out

Knives Out ★★★½

I have to admit, I listened to Knives Out, the Radiohead song, on the way to watch this. It's a nice track, and I'm kind of a loser.

This movie is... fun. I had a pretty good time watching it. The little annoyances are going to pile up when I think back on it, but I unequivocally enjoyed myself, maybe just a little pacing aside. The film changes its focus entirely a couple times and is kind of oddly structured as a result, so I don't envy an editor trying to make this all flow.

As a mystery, it's pretty entertaining. Little details are tightly written to all come together in the end, forming into in a web of absurd coincidences and layers of deceit, just the way I'd want out of a mystery story. There's nothing to get incredible excited about in a cinematic sense, but it's all nicely composed, and that knife chair, no matter how silly, is quite striking. If a friend wanted to know what I thought about this movie, this is probably everything I'd give them, because it's the essence of what really matters that I'll take away. Nonetheless, since we're here, let's dig in a little.

It's a bit of a shame what's done with this stellar cast, though. Daniel Craig truly hams it up in the best possible way as a southern detective, but most of the other actors are allowed to be quirky and amusing, yet then immediately shoved to the background. People like Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, and Michael Shannon are exciting when they get to be, but before long, the focus pulls in tight on Daniel Craig's detective and Ana de Armas's protagonist. De Armas does fine with the role, but her character seems set to be the normal person to contrast the wacky family to, so she is likable, but becomes a bit less amusing to watch, comparatively. Certain characters, particularly the alt-right boy, spend most of the movie with absolutely nothing to do, no real reason to exist. This family of interesting characters quickly morphs into a blob of one character, "the family," only here as a large ensemble to add some red herrings to the mystery.

I've also heard rumblings repeatedly about what a political film this is -- admittedly this comes primarily from brief summaries here and a lot of headlines I've come across, as I didn't want to spoil the film. The deeper reading will come after. Still, I think this primed me a bit for the political angle to play a large role and I'm not so convinced that it does. There are references to how "self-made" people are largely a myth, and in the end it could be said to be a tale about how immigrants are every bit as deserving of America as those who have been here a little longer. That's all very good, I don't intend to downplay it, but I wish the film didn't leave off so definitively on, above all else, be nice. Nice people win. The benevolent rich man will make things good. It's a bit weak, and it's not helped by the inserted political arguments that feel a little too on-the-nose and the way it has the aforementioned alt-right kid, referencing the fact that we're watching fascism build itself up, with nothing to say about it but a quick joke or two. It's brief, but I had the feeling the film was too closely equating having a job and working hard with being a good person, also (I genuinely might be reaching here, but the slightest hint of that sort of Calvinist thinking sets off alarm bells in my head). I'm doing my best to interpret things here as entirely metaphorical (in relation to the sort of "success" for immigrants portrayed), because the more literally I take things, the more I'll end up sounding like my friend and better review writer Kyle Armstrong, about how the film says we just need the right people in places of privilege.

Anyway, it's probably sort of like I said in my recent review of Children of Men. I can find ways to criticize the details of the "message," but it's important to keep in mind that this is still a film falling firmly on the side of immigrants as actually being people and, you know, worthy of just as much as anyone else. That's a low bar, but when so many people fail at that, I'm still going to consider this far more good than bad. And it's even more important to keep in mind that the movie is entertaining to watch. I appreciate that there's a little more to it beyond that, though it's probably one to mostly focus on the fun parts and not overthink it.

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