Friday, December 20, 2019

Knives Out

© 2018 MRC II Distribution Company L.P. All rights reserved. Please click on the images to enlarge them. NB. Ana de Armas is missing from both images.

Richard (Don Johnson), Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Ransom (Chris Evans) Great Nana (K Callan), Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) Walt (Michael Shannon), Jacob (Jaeden Martell), Donna (Riki Lindholm), Joni (Toni Collette) and Meg (Katherine Langford). Photo: Claire Folger. © 2018 MRC II Distribution Company L.P. All rights reserved.

Veitset esiin / Knives Out [the title in Sweden].
    US © 2019 Lions Gate / MRC. PC: Media Rights Capital / T-Street. Distributed by: Lionsgate. P: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson.
    D+SC: Rian Johnson. Cin: Steve Yedlin – colour – 1,85:1 – source format: ARRIRAW 3.4K – released in: D-Cinema. PD: David Crank. AD: Jeremy Woodward. Set dec: David Schlesinger. Cost: Jenny Eagan. Makeup: Luisa Abel. Hair: Kelvin R. Trahan. SFX: Christopher Walsh. VFX: Rupert Davies (One Of Us), Tim Keene. M: Nathan Johnson. S: Al Nelson. ED: Bob Ducsay. Casting: Mary Vernieu.
    Cast (as edited in Wikipedia):
    Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc: a private detective called upon to investigate Harlan's murder
    Chris Evans as Hugh Ransom Drysdale: Harlan's grandson, Linda and Richard's son, and a spoiled playboy
    Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera: Harlan's nurse and caretaker who had a close relationship with him
    Jamie Lee Curtis as Linda Drysdale: Harlan's eldest daughter and Richard's wife. She is a real estate mogul who runs her own company with her husband's support
    Michael Shannon as Walter "Walt" Thrombey: Harlan's youngest son, Donna's husband, and the CEO of his father's publishing company
    Don Johnson as Richard Drysdale: Harlan's son-in-law and Linda's husband, who helps run his wife's company
    Toni Collette as Joni Thrombey: widow of Harlan's deceased son Neil, who is a lifestyle guru and influencer
    Lakeith Stanfield as Detective Lieutenant Elliot: a local detective involved in the investigation
    Katherine Langford as Megan "Meg" Thrombey: Harlan's granddaughter, Joni and Neil's daughter, who studies at a prestigious liberal arts college
    Jaeden Martell as Jacob Thrombey: Harlan's grandson, Walt and Donna's son, who holds alt-right views and is always on his phone
    Christopher Plummer as Harlan Thrombey: a wealthy mystery novelist who invites his family to his 85th birthday party and is later found dead. He has three children — Linda, Walt and deceased Neil
    Noah Segan as Trooper Wagner: a police officer involved with the investigation
    Edi Patterson as Fran: Harlan's housekeeper, who discovers his body
    Riki Lindhome as Donna Thrombey: Harlan's daughter-in-law and Walt's wife
    K Callan as Wanetta "Great Nana" Thrombey: Harlan's elderly mother
    Frank Oz as Alan Stevens: Harlan's lawyer
    M. Emmet Walsh as Mr. Proofroc
    Marlene Forte as Mrs. Cabrera: Marta's mother
    Shyrley Rodriguez as Alicia Cabrera: Marta's sister
    Raúl Castillo as a cop
    Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Detective Hardrock (voice cameo)
Loc: Massachusetts, USA. 30 Oct – 21 Dec 2018.
130 min
Festival premiere: 7 Sep 2019 Toronto.
US premiere: 27 Nov 2019.
Finnish premiere: 29 Nov 2019 – released by Nordisk Film – Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Nina Ekholm.
DCP viewed at Kinopalatsi, Helsinki, 20 Dec 2019.

Knives Out is a detective story of the most classical kind, a well made play. There is something Hawksian in Rian Johnson's approach to genre. He both fulfills genre expectations and uses the detective story as a vehicle for personal expression. Robin Wood used to call this kind of classicism Mozartian.

The film is full of contemporary observations and satirical references. There is an amusement at the quaint legacy of "the gentleman sleuth" syndrome but the film is not a pastiche. Its ethos is perfect for Christmas entertainment. Interestingly, of this Christmas's big audience movies two stem from the same roots, the other one being Downton Abbey.

With good reason Knives Out has been compared with Agatha Christie. It is a whodunit. There is a large gathering of suspects, all concealing secrets. There is also something Dostoevskyan in the revelation that everyone is guilty – of a death wish at least. Like many detective stories, this is a satire of class society.

Knives Out is even a locked room mystery. It takes place at a country house, and the crime is an inside job. There are red herrings, a reconstruction of the crime and a final twist in the plot. The least likely suspect confesses the crime. The crime is solved by a celebrity sleuth. A novel twist is that the detective (Daniel Craig) looks hard-boiled but is actually solving the case purely with his gray brain cells just like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

It could hardly get more classical than this. Agatha Christie is the most successful author in this tradition, but the tradition is among the oldest in storytelling. Christie was standing on the shoulders of Arthur Conan Doyle, but before him Wilkie Collins had established most of the conventions in The Moonstone. He in turn had been inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's detective stories, and Poe knew Voltaire's Zadig. ("The Three Apples" in One Thousand and One Nights is sometimes mentioned as the first whodunit murder mystery. I can see why, but I find the link to detective stories a bit far fetched. [Burton, Chapter 4. 19th Night.])

A source of the inexhaustible fascination in this tradition is the double narrative (sujet / fabula). We follow the investigation of the detective (sujet) until we can make sense of the story of the crime (fabula). Adding a special level to Knives Out is that the victim himself is a crime novelist (Christopher Plummer) who contributes to the scenario of the fatal night.

Glossy big budget all star adaptations of Agatha Christie whodunits were popular in the 1970s and the 1980s. Robert Altman revitalized the tradition with Gosford Park in 2001, based on an original screenplay by Julian Fellowes, and Altman was the right man to do it since he had his own personal approach to big society ensemble portraits and all star casts. There was even a touch of La Règle du jeu. Rian Johnson rejuvenates the tradition once again, and perhaps some La Règle du jeu affinity is present, although without a drama of passion this time. As well known, Gosford Park inspired Downton Abbey, also written by Fellowes.


Knives Out is both plot- and character-driven. In a big ensemble piece characters are inevitably caricatures to some extent, and there has to be a stylized, vignette-like approach to performance. The cast excels in their roles as juicy suspects literally from the first minute, starting with Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson visibly relishing their roles. All are good. Christopher Plummer as Harlan the patriarch disappointed with his offspring. Michael Shannon as his youngest son and publisher. Chris Evans and Katharine Langford as the scheming grandchildren. K Callan as the centenarian great-grandmother. Daniel Craig, beefy and unshaven, using wit here instead of muscle. Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera is a counter-image to the greed and xenophobia. To portray goodness in contemporary cinema is next to impossible, but she and Rian Johnson pull it off.

The film has been impressively shot in autumnal Massachusetts, bringing to mind Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry shot in neighbouring Vermont. Steve Yedlin's cinematography is constantly interesting from majestic aerial shots to magnifying glass views and extreme close-ups exposing sweat, pores and stubs on the skin. The film is full of delicious touches including painted portrait credit shots in the end credits while "Sweet Virginia"* by The Rolling Stones is heard on the soundtrack.

* "Sweet Virginia" was first published on Exile on Main Street (recorded in 1970, released in 1972).

NB. Although Knives Out is a whodunit, it has also affinities with Anthony Shaffer's play Sleuth (1970) and its film adaptation by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1972) for instance in the character of the novelist, the interior design of the country house and the fascination with games.

The game is Go. Marta usually wins Harlan because she plays by the instinct and he by the intellect.


Star Wars: The Last Jedi – ja Looper-ohjaaja Rian Johnson vaihtaa uutuudessaan vapaalle täydellisen yllättävästi. Murhamysteeri perustuu ohjaajan omaan käsikirjoitukseen, jonka asetelma on ehtaa Agatha Christietä. Johnsonin osaavissa käsissä se muovautuu yhtäkkiä kiehtovaksi ja kiinnostavaksi. Oivallukset, yllätyskäänteet ja hiljalleen häkellyttävästi paljastuva monitasoisuus muuttavat tunkkaisen moderniksi ja lopputuloksen kertakaikkisen tuoreeksi ja nautittavaksi.

Poikkeuksellista ruutia löytyy myös roolituksesta. Oscar-voittaja Christopher Plummer on upporikas rikoskirjailija, joka löytyy kuolleena kotikartanostaan 85-vuotisjuhliaan seuraavana aamuna. Daniel Craig on yksityisetsivä, jonka joku on palkannut anonyymisti tutkimaan tapausta. Epäiltyjen listalla on koko edellisillan kekkereissä paikalla ollut suku.

Kuulustelupenkkiin vuoron perään istutettavien supertähtien lista täräyttää luulot pois: Kapteeni Amerikka Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon. Konkareiden rinnalla pärjäävät hienosti myös nuoret kyvyt Jaeden Martell (Se-elokuvat) ja Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, ensi vuoden Bond-seikkailu No Time to Die). Jokainen näyttelijä hoitaa tonttinsa kuin rooli olisi räätälöity juuri hänelle. Tekemisestä huokuu nautinto.

Veitset esiin on liki virheetön elokuva. Kerronta soljuu uskomattoman vaivattomasti. Katsojan mielenkiintoa ruokitaan herkeämättä. Vaikka puhetta on välillä paljon, suvantoja ei ole. Myös ohjaaja Johnsonin nyanssien taju on sillä tavoin lyömätön, ettei elokuva edes anna kaikkea itsestään yhdellä katsomisella. Reilun kahden tunnin jälkeen olo on tyydytetty mutta sittenkin tyhjä: eikö tätä saakaan lisää?

Night Visions Maximum Halloween 20–24 Nov 2019

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