“Knives Out” Whodunit Movie Review

Spectacularly crafted Whodunit! The kind of movie that would make J.B. Fletcher proud. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out is a sleek modern interpretation of the a classic murder-mystery movie. He pays homage to Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries in terms of premise, but subverts what audiences expect out of a Christie mystery with his original expression, told through an outstanding screenplay complete with everything you want to get out of a Whodunit. You get it all: virtually everyone has a strong motive, plenty of deception, and a fortune at stake. Johnson displays a genuine love for Whodunits because he stays on brand by striking the proper tone and handling all the plot layers and characters with extreme care. The tone of this movie is one that is completely satirical yet never devolves into parody. Because it takes itself seriously, the moments of levity are placed with extreme precision. There are plenty of laugh out loud scenes in the movie, but the focus remains on solving the mystery of who killed Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Johnson’s satire on the obscenely wealthy class of Americans with their warped morality and ethics is highly entertaining, and will keep you amateur sleuthing along with Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) and Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). The central question in this Whodunit isn’t merely whodunit, but how could it not have been done. You just have to watch! Knives Out is a movie that did something boldly different with a classic premise and even the very act of spoofing a Whodunit. Johnson expertly crafted a highly clever plot that grows more fantastic with each moment of intrigue! You will want to watch it again to find all the clues you missed the first time around. Oh–in case you don’t recognize J.B. Fletcher, that is Angela Lansbury’s character in Murder, She Wrote, and she makes a cameo in this movie!

A detective and a trooper travel to a lush estate to interview the quirky relatives of a patriarch who died during his 85th birthday celebration.

The ability for a writer-director to master a cinematic story full of a labyrinth of layers, is truly a dying artform. In order for Johnson to have so successfully orchestrated such a spectacular whodunit, he had to study the source material films. Not source material in that this is based on a previous work–quite the opposite–it’s a wholly original story. But source material found in the hundreds of timeless film noir and murder-mystery films. Study the originals so closely that you know what tropes need to stay but also what elements can be re-interpreted for a modern audience. I can tell that every turning point in the main plot as well as every detail in the subplots was intentionally written and never left to afterthought. Johnson displays a mastery of the element of surprise. You may think you have this movie figured out, but you are likely wrong. Much like with the world’s largest, worse kept secret of the truth behind the murder in Murder on the Orient Express, it won’t take long for the secrets to be talked about at the water cooler in nearly every office.

These types of movies seem like relics of the past, the product of a long-since crumbled studio system, but Rian Johnson found a way to take the soul of what those films like The Maltese Falcon great, and channel it directly into a modern story that can provide a gripping mystery and touch on important social topics at the same time without it ever feeling preachy. Johnson never loses sight of the timeless grandeur of a serious Whodunit. While this movie takes itself seriously as a Whodunit, it is also hilariously funny. You wont’ find slapstick humor here, but well developed and fashioned drawing room humor coupled with brash candor. There are plenty of puns, one-liners, viciously funny insults the Golden Girls would be proud of, and even tell tale vomit. Some of Knives Out‘s humor is derived from the social commentary on the relationship between the 1%ers and the rest of the world. Furthermore, witty humor is born out of the relationships between individual characters and in the children/grandchildren and their grandfather. Humor that is grounded in conflict is always going to be more powerful than gag-based jokes.

Most of the performances are exemplary! Wish I could say all, but there are a few characters that are little more than furniture. If I have one gripe about the screenplay, it’s that there are 2-3 characters that do very little for the story, and pretty much just exist. If there are two standout performances in the movie, those would be Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas. Craig looked like he was having so much fun playing the southern aristocratic private investigator Benoit Blanc that I already want to see him reprise this character in another movie or even TV series! Not only did it look like he was having fun, but he remained committed to the character the entire time and never once faltered in any action or delivery. Maybe it isn’t a typical Oscar performance, but it was a command one never-the less. Just because he’s a caricature of a detective, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a stellar performance. Likewise, Armas’ Marta is a treasure to watch. Her sincerity, authenticity is unmatched by so many whom have played similar characters in the past. She completely transforms to play this nurse, and is strong, vulnerable, bold, and meek all at the same time. It takes tremendous talent to possess all those layers and never deliver one that isn’t precisely what is needed in that moment.

Now, I’d love to talk more about this movie, but I am afraid that if I go much further that I will tread close to spoiler territory. So I am going to do a little something different with this article. I am going to leave it here for now, but after the wide/general release of the film, then I can do more of a deep dive. Until then!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“All the Money in the World” film review

A spellbinding thriller that will hold hostage your attention. Ridley Scott’s highly anticipated historical neo-noir drama depicting the infamous kidnapping of the favorite grandson of oil tycoon J. Paul Getty All the Money in the World is an incredibly suspenseful drama that is every bit as good as you’ve been hearing. Probably the highest profile Christmas season motion picture release after the–quite literal–last minute recasting of living legend Christopher Plummer as J. Paul Getty I, this film is a non-stop search and rescue of epic proportions. The most notable element of the film is the aforementioned casting; however, there is so much more to this movie than the role played by Plummer. This film has an incredibly organic feel to it–all the way down to the practical blood effects. Although many of the roles in the film are one-dimensional, don’t let that dissuade you from buying your ticket to see it on the big screen. Each and every character in the film is played with excellence by the respective actors. No slowing down in this film, the pacing is incredibly quick but works brilliantly for this nail-biting drama that will have your attention for the entire runtime of the movie. If there was ever a real-life Scrooge, J. Paul Getty would be a contender for the famed Dickensian character. Witness the lengths a mother will go to find and free her son despite being cut off from her father-in-law’s unparalleled fortune. Love, logic, and profit are at war in this fantastic motion picture that is sure to grab the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

A king’s ransom. That’s what J. Paul Getty III (grandson of J. Paul Getty I) demand of the Getty family. All the Money in the World follows Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) and ex-CIA special operations Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) on their perilous journey to locate and retrieve Paul. Only one small problem, Gail’s ex-father-in-law is oil tycoon and ruthless J. Paul Getty, and he refuses to pay the ransom demanded by his favorite grandson’s kidnappers. With Paul’s very life in danger, Gail and Chase, otherwise unlikely allies because of his ties to J. Paul Getty I, are forced to team up in order to locate Paul and secure the ransom money from her former father-in-law who refuses to do anything with his money and time unless there is some sort of monetary profit in it. After Paul’s ear is found in the mail, Gail realizes that her only hope is to get J. Paul Getty to somehow agree to pay the ransom for his grandson.

From a storytelling perspective, the most notable aspect of this motion picture is the aggressively nonlinear storytelling. We begin in (then) present-day, go back to Paul’s early impoverished childhood, fast-forward to him a little older, then to the months prior to his kidnapping, back to the present-day again. We also take a look back at J. Paul Getty I in the early days of his oil business in the middle east. Although I am not typically a fan of flashbacks, it works very well for this story in order to truly understand the dysfunctional family dynamics. While his children live a life that barely gets by financially, J. Paul Getty I lives the life of the wealthiest man the modern world had ever seen. Still, J. Paul is also the embodiment of Ebeneezer Scrooge in every way shape and form. Every moment moves the story forward. Never once will you feel that the more than two-hour film is stagnated or treading water just to fill time. You will also encounter some of the most gruesome moments that Scott has ever put on screen.  The diegesis of the film is constructed with extreme precision, and it creates an overarching exemplary work of how powerful a historic crime drama/thriller can be.

But what kind of film is this? Is it a crime drama? Historic drama? Thriller? Or even classically structured and shot film noir? Often times, when writers or directors set out to create a hybrid film (meaning, more than one genre) run into the problem of the film being in a state of identity crisis. Each main genre has certain pillars and structural supports that need to be met in order to tell the genre story effectively. That doesn’t mean that you cannot have a film that has elements of more than one genre but it does mean that the more genre elements that you have, the more difficult it is to weave them all seamlessly together. Fortunately, Scott’s All the Money in the World written by David Scarpa is a masterpiece! Scarpa showcases his ability to utilize the best of the genre tropes that are in this film to tell a completely new story with a unique experience. If I were to select a genre that this film is best suited for, it would be film noir, in the vein of my review’s opening lines. For all its other elements, All the Money in the World is most closely aligned with film noir because our main character of Gail is in over her head, the non-linear storytelling, dark places and themes, Gail’s exquisite attire, and it’s a story filled with gloom, ill-fated characters, fear, and betrayal.

For those who have been to the famous Getty Museum in Los Angeles (I went a few years ago, and still remember it vividly), you will have a better understanding of how he acquired all those artifacts and art pieces, and how the museum came to be. Perhaps, much like The Founder may have caused you to call into question whether or not you want to support such an infamous legacy, you may also debate whether or not to support the museum that bears his name. Even though J. Paul Getty was a ruthless man, he did provide treasures for the American people and visitors to the states to enjoy for all time. For those who enjoy further reading after watching a historical drama, you’ll find that the Getty family continued to suffer and Paul never recovered from his kidnapping tragedy. His life was cut short after a drug overdose. This is the kind of film that you will want to watch again because of the powerful philosophical punch that pits love against money.