Rian Johnson Successfully Reinvents and Celebrates a Forgotten Genre with Knives Out


The whodunits, once among the most popular genres represented in print. Film media has been curiously missing from the mainstream in recent years. Fans and also critics were in agreement. That perhaps the glory days of plot-driven murder mysteries were long gone in favour of more action-packed thrillers or film noir. Bar the occasional reboot like Kenneth Branagh’s take on “Murder on the Orient Express”. It was, hence, a pleasant surprise to see Star Wars director Rian Johnson’s latest project, “Knives Out” receiving almost universal acclaim. Since its release in the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival this September. It has since become the poster child for the revival of the whodunit. It takes the best aspects of the field and executing them sharply with a modern, original story.

What Knives Out Is All About

Known to be an adventurously subversive (often to a fault) director, Johnson’s reputation precedes him. With films such as Brick, Looper, The Brothers Bloom, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. His creative vision seems to have struck all the right chords this time around, as he delivers an intricate, clever, and delightful movie. Knives Out open with its main attraction front and centre- a dead body in a mysterious setting. Bestselling author Harlan Thrombey is discovered with his throat slit. It is in his Victorian mansion one-night. So, a curious chain of events unfolds as the police, his exceedingly eccentric family. The movie’s main attraction- Detective Benoit Blanc (played by the delightful Daniel Craig) seeks to uncover the killer.

Delivering on Expectations

From the outset, Knives Out knows what it wants to be- production designer David Cranksets up the house. As “a Clue board come to life”, a fact acknowledged within the script itself. His incredible work will surely not go unnoticed this award season. although it faces competition from Bong Joon-Ho’s moving feature “Parasite”. With the sprawling setting, tight script and gorgeous cinematography all checked, this is a movie that would surely benefit from a good cast, and the elite ensemble absolutely delivers. Veteran star Christopher Plummer plays the deceased Thrombey and breathes new life into the trope of the dying plutocrat. Joining him and Craig are Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) and Chris Evans (Marvel Cinematic Universe, Snowpiercer). Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, and Michael Shannon round-up Thrombey’s colourful family.

So, as the tale plays out, deeper dynamics within the family come to light, shedding light on relationships, power dynamics, politics, and emotion. The film stays true to its genre roots but does not shy away from discussing more relevant political issues such as privilege, class solidarity, and immigration. A lot of tricks very popular among old crime fiction do resurface here for the keen observer. The 126-minute runtime never feels even a second too long. Knives Out has collected a worldwide gross of $126.16 million and stands at a 97% critics score at review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. 

Certainly among the best films of the year, this self-aware, over the top, brilliant mystery leaves very little doubt that the whodunit is far from retired, and in the hands of a capable auteur, can still be fashioned into something hilarious, gripping and enjoyable.