seen @ Cinepolis Chelsea, New York NY
Knives Out is a movie based on an ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY. These days it’s rare that such a beast exists in Hollywood, much less one that becomes a hit, much much less that it’s written and directed by the same person, so I feel it’s important to establish this up front. In this case, that person is current wunderkind Rian Johnson, the guy who directed the Star Wars movie everybody hated—or so it seems, if you go by social media.
I did not see The Last Jedi, nor am I likely to anytime soon. I’m burnt out on Star Wars right now, and being reminded of it everywhere I go these days doesn’t help—but I am familiar with Johnson’s career before he hit the motherload. He did the SF time travel flick Looper, which was interesting, and he did an earlier one called Brick, a suspense movie of a different stripe from the sound of it, which is currently in my Netflix queue.
Johnson has become the new caretaker of the Star Wars franchise: he’s slated to write the next three movies after this month’s latest installment, The Rise of Skywalker (which he did not write or direct). If so, I hope it doesn’t mean a moratorium on films like Knives, because it was good. If you’ve heard about it, you know it’s a modern-day, Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, with an all-star cast.
Daniel Craig plays the sleuth looking to solve the mystery, a character who’s more Tennessee Williams than Agatha Christie. Craig puts on a broad Southern accent for this one, and once you get past the sight of James Bond talking like Burl Ives in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, he’s actually not bad. I wouldn’t call him flamboyant; it’s just that he stands out among a cast of very Northern, very modern characters.
In this story, you’re led to believe a specific someone committed the murder; in fact, halfway through the film you even see how the deed was done, but the murder only leads to subsequent events that are equally important—and was it a murder anyway, or did it only look like one? Johnson guides you down one blind alley after another before changing the rules of the game so that you’re no longer sure of anything. It’s quite clever.
Is Knives meant to be a comedy? The marketing for it, as well as interviews with Johnson I read, made me think so, but neither I nor the smallish audience I saw it with (perhaps 20-30 people) did a great deal of laughing. That’s okay, it was still an excellent movie, but I was kinda hoping it was a comedy, in the vein of earlier flicks like Clue and Murder By Death.
If I’m not mistaken, this is the first fiction movie I’ve seen that directly discusses the current occupant of the White House. His actions are debated in a scene where they’re both condemned and defended, and while this scene doesn’t play into the plot, it gives us a deeper insight into the squabbling family of the story: their privilege, their conscience, and ultimately their cluelessness. One of the big themes of Knives involves immigration and what it means to live in America as a foreigner, but Johnson doesn’t hit you over the head with it, to his credit. This movie’s real good.
Have I talked about Cinepolis before? It’s in Chelsea. The national chain took over this local theater a few years ago and they’ve done a good job. Gourmet food though not on the level of Alamo Drafthouse, single-digit matinee screenings (barely; it’s $9.50, but still), reclining seats with trays, even programmed events and film series. It’s a good bargain, for Manhattan.