Knives Out First Reviews: Rian Johnson Revives the Murder Mystery with Razor-Sharp Script and Killer Cast

Critics at the Toronto International Film Festival say there are clues everywhere that Knives Out is one of the year's best: from Daniel Craig's performance to the movie's smart political satire.

by | September 8, 2019 | Comments

Following up his critically acclaimed Star Wars sequel, 2017’s The Last Jedi, writer/director Rian Johnson premiered his new mystery movie Knives Out (2019) 97% at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday night to multiple standing ovations. And the first reviews out of the gate are in tune with that immediate reception. Critics love this movie, so far, from its wholly delightful ensemble cast and their big comedic performances to the smart suspense of the storytelling, which keeps viewers guessing until the film’s final moments. Many were even quick to claim that this will be high on year-end lists.

Here’s what critics are saying about Knives Out:

How much fun is Knives Out?

Knives Out is pure fun from beginning to end and a popcorn crunching whodunit of the highest accord.” – Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic

“It’s a total blast.” – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

“This juicy comedy thriller is a treat from start to finish.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“It’s one of the most purely satisfying and enjoyable moviegoing experiences I’ve had in recent memory.” – Adam Chitwood, Collider

Knives Out is one of the most purely entertaining films in years.” – Brian Tallerico,

“This one is a crowd-pleaser.” – Joe Lipett, Bloody Disgusting

Is it full of surprises?

“Johnson’s script is loaded with more twists and turns than a roller coaster.” – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

“The audience is kept on their toes from the first frame to the last, as this tale weaves its way through twists and turns leading to a shocking conclusion you will never see coming.” – Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic

“There are reveals that tip the standard structure on its head in ways that prove wickedly disorienting.” – Benjamin Lee, Guardian

“Johnson’s screenplay in many ways is the star here, with its well-oiled plot mechanics and guileful twists and turns, constantly pulling the rug out from under the audience as much as the characters.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Even if you do somehow manage to piece the whole thing together in advance, there’s no way of predicting the joy of watching it all unfold.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“The thing that makes this a better mousetrap than most isn’t the complexity, but the fact he’s managed to rig it without the usual cheese.” – Peter Debruge, Variety

Knives Out
(Photo by Claire Folger, Lionsgate)

Will mystery fans love it?

“Rian Johnson shows that there’s life left in the genre.“ – Peter Debruge, Variety

“There’s nothing better than a whodunit mystery movie, but in the hands of a writer-director like Rian Johnson, the enjoyment is heightened.” – Jason Guerrasio, Business Insider

Knives Out is, above all, a celebration of murder mysteries that puts on a fairly nifty impression of one itself.” – Tim Grierson, Screen International

Knives Out a more playful and far more contemporary renewal of the genre than Kenneth Branagh’s pageant-like 2017 Orient Express remake.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“This isn’t just Murder on the Orient Express with cell phones, but rather a room-shaking crowdpleaser that reckons with how fresh Agatha Christie’s books felt to those who read them in their time.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“It’s a film that works because of Johnson’s palpable love for the genre, but he never allows the film to become too meta or referential.”Brian Tallerico,

“It’s such a rare pleasure to see a director so in love with a genre without slipping into Tarantinoesque fanboy indulgence.” – Benjamin Lee, Guardian

And it’s hilarious, too?

“Certainly one of the best laugh riots in 2019.” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

“[It’s] a very funny movie where even the most throwaway jokes are later exhumed with vital importance.” David Ehrlich, IndieWire

Knives Out
(Photo by Claire Folger, Lionsgate)

How’s the (incredibly stacked) class?

“The real treat of Knives Out is watching this incredible cast ham it up and have a clearly great time doing it.” – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

“The whole cast is in on the over-the-top fun…all these actors get their time to shine.” – Jason Guerrasio, Business Insider

“There’s not a weak link in the ensemble.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“There’s not only not a single weak link in the entire ensemble, it’s also kind of impossible to choose an acting MVP.” – Adam Chitwood, Collider

“Recognizable yet incisive casting, each actor perfectly matched to their role.” – Benjamin Lee, Guardian

“Some of the cast gets lost…it’s a large ensemble piece and your fave may get short shrift. – Brian Tallerico,

And specifically, how is Daniel Craig?

“This is one of the most enjoyable characters Craig has ever played, and here’s hoping he starts doing more and more comedy now that his Bond days are drawing to a close.” – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

“It’s enough to make the Bond actor’s yee-haw prisoner turn in Logan Lucky feel like a warm-up routine.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“The actor seems determined to amuse himself, going overboard with the character, much as he did in Logan Lucky (although there, at least, it played to more amusing effect).” – Peter Debruge, Variety

“I would put his work here in a similar place to what he did in Logan Lucky.  He can certainly surprise us every now and then!” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

“Craig never entirely breaks free of the straitjacket of his knowingly preposterous role — he’s a little too stiff to be truly freewheeling.” – Tim Grierson, Screen International

Knives Out
Director Rian Johnson with Chris Evans and Ana de Armas. (Photo by Claire Folger, © Lionsgate)

But this is really Ana de Armas’ movie, right?

“Ana de Armas is a surprising standout.” – Adam Chitwood, Collider

Ana De Armas is spectacular.” – Carla Renata, The Curvy Film Critic

“De Armas shines as the hired help plunged into the middle of a murder investigation.” – Tim Grierson, Screen International

“Sweet, charming, and adept at some great physical comedy, de Armas is a treat to watch.” – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

Any others who stand out?

“Jamie Lee Curtis does amazing work for laughs by delivering a deadpan performance.  It’s amazing.” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

“Collette punches past the rafters, through the roof, and enters Earth’s lower orbit, combining faux-spirituality, liberal elitism, and emotionally stunted neediness into a whirlwind of hilarious inanity.” – Jake Cole, Slant

“The local cops played by Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segandeserve their own spin-off movie.” – Chris Evangelista, Slashfilm

Which below-the-line talents make an impression?

“It’s a testament to Bob Ducsay’s editing that not only does the film fly by, but each scene featuring the massive ensemble feels even-handed and clear.” – Adam Chitwood, Collider

“The Thrombey estate is an art director’s dream, as production designer David Crank imagines a mansion that only a mystery novelist could fashion for himself.” – Peter Debruge, Variety

Knives Out
(Photo by Claire Folger, Lionsgate)

Does the movie get political?

“[It’s] grand statement about America and our current moment…the first film to take on the significance of a President Trump without lapsing into corny preachiness.” – Charles Bramesco, The Playlist

“The film’s true lacerations concern those inflicted by the elite on themselves in Johnson’s expert parody of whodunnit class politics.” – Jake Cole, Slant

“Some of [the] attempts to give the film a contemporary, Trump’s America spin are a little too clunky, other similar touches work so well that you’re willing to forget them.” – Benjamin Lee, Guardian

“The rich-folks jabs provide the film’s cheapest laughs.” – Peter Debruge, Variety

“Thanks to an impeccable script, game actors and plenty of laughs, though, the messaging goes down easy.” – Joe Lipett, Bloody Disgusting

Any criticisms – at all?

“This thriller can sometimes be too mechanical — a breezy exercise if not always an emotionally satisfying one.” – Tim Grierson, Screen International

“Spending so much time with [Ana de Armas] when the time could be spent with the film’s larger than life personalities is admittedly frustrating.” – Joe Lipett, Bloody Disgusting

We hear there’s a final shot for the ages… 

“My God does Johnson stick the landing with one of the best final shots of the year.” – Brian Tallerico,

“[It’s an] all-timer of a final shot.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“[Johnson]’s assembled a dazzling contraption that, if twisted in just the right way, pops open to reveal a nugget of wisdom crystallized by the cathartic final shot.” Charles Bramesco, The Playlist

Will we want to see it again (and again)?

“When it ends you’ll immediately want to get back on.” – Adam Chitwood, Collider

“I cannot wait to see this laugh riot again!” – Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

Knives Out premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019. It will be in theaters November 27, 2019.


Knives Out (2019)

Adjusted Score: 117.125%
Critics Consensus: Knives Out sharpens old murder-mystery tropes with a keenly assembled suspense outing that makes brilliant use of writer-director Rian Johnson's stellar ensemble.
Synopsis: Acclaimed writer and director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) pays tribute to mystery mastermind Agatha Christie... [More]
Directed By: Rian Johnson

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