Your boos mean nothing, I’ve seen what makes you cheer.
-something better I watched this week
What lives below regarding Knives Out isn’t vindictive or targeting any sole entity. So much as it’s a guttural response to seeing the same platitudes getting repackaged and served up for a certain audience. If any particular section of my assessment strikes a nerve, I gladly invite discussion.
Your Feature Presentation
Rian Johnson has another year-ender film devised to tear audiences asunder. Just kidding. Nobody goes to see non-space or comic book movies anymore. Take that noise to Netflix, where mainstream America is forcing Martin Scorsese to retire. The silver screen has better things to do than engage in your woke cousin’s SVU spec script about the upper class.
Yet, here we are on Thanksgiving Eve. The cast is pretty amazing. I applaud getting a mid-budget movie into theaters against the release of Frozen 2. Yet, there is that one thing that keeps nagging at me. The sheer god awful coyness of a Rian Johnson movie. I’ve had two years to gather my thoughts, so buckle in for a bit.
Johnson makes the film equivalent of Brian Griffin’s novels. The director as lazy auteur outright panders to a film-going base that believes itself to be smarter than the commoners surrounding them. These are the kinds of people that will ask you not to @ them, while they blow up your Twitter feeds with endless rants about the sanctity of the Poli-Sci retweet of the day.
It’s not that they want to appear smart. Oh no, that requires work and self-reflection. This is the ambrosia of arrogance dressed in the Hollandaise of delusion. They can’t be wrong, because to challenge them is to challenge the institutions they believe they defend. Forever jousting with the never-ending windmills of their mind, their war only ends when you comply to their nonsense.
Let’s talk about Knives Out
Knives Out is the crime thriller that you wanted, just not in this way. A rich family has gathered together to celebrate a Patriarch’s birthday. Shortly thereafter, Christopher Plummer (award nominated Kevin Spacey stand-in) dies. Daniel Craig arrives playing a dignified version of his Logan Lucky character. All the while, the real face of the film emerges.
This film is a takedown of the Americans that made our country great again. Just kidding. No one in our country is great. We’re a nation that made Green Book a hit and spent months arguing over a meme about dress color. At what point do we still get to bemoan and gawk at those that slight us in the broadest of stereotypes. The least said about that kid and the deer pictures…the better.
As the final stage Pokemon Evolution of Western Society, America lives to take shots at those that dwell within its walls. Whether social, economics, sexuality, gender or race related…everyone is keeping everyone else on their toes. Things change as society evolves, but the sheer pettiness of the human experience remains. At an incredibly base level, that is what informs this film.
Knives Out as metaphor
Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Black Friday or an awkward family get together…everyone has their ‘knives’ out. It can be anything from petty bullshit to clever observations about an in-law’s inability to see their personality flaws. When raised to a societal examination, everyone’s biases and ‘triggers’ emerge as they forced to interact with other people.
Chris Evans doesn’t like his family, Toni Collette thinks she’s above it all and Jamie Lee Curtis is the only one acting like she has a damn clue. Every sort of modern societal term is tossed around, while the camera lingers long enough to let people know what the family thinks of the housekeeper and nurse. The police are shown as nothing more than legal butlers interloping on serious matters.
All of this is a fantasy of angry minds and furrowed brows trying to make sense of a world beyond them. When you can reduce people down to projected sociopolitical methodologies, then you haven’t made a film. You’ve made a morality play. A morality play that is predicated on your beliefs of what others believe. In that sense, it’s no different than whatever schlock Kirk Cameron is spooning out to his flock.
Hey, it’s a movie!
The problem with narrative fiction in the modern era is the people watching it. I say watch in the sense that they’re staring at a screen for 90-180 minutes. Do they understand what they’re seeing? The answer is usually NO.
Conceptual comprehension is under assault in an era where instant gratification and confirmation bias are the order of the day. As we watch Detective Benoit Blanc assess the mansion grounds and interview the family, what he does might seem superhuman. That is unless you can see through the narrative being sold. Especially as it concerns Nurse Marta.
Marta is fetishized more the knives that dot the scenery of this film. The left-wing part of the family sees her as an easy touchstone for their paper-thin views. While the right-wing side of the family sees her as confirmation of what they already believe. Even when the tables turn and Marta has the ability to fight back, her responses are stock.
Somewhere around the end of the third or fourth reel, everyone becomes a stock character. To paraphrase a much older character, “murder mysteries are really dumb”. Sure, Rick Sanchez was initially referring to heist movies, but the sentiment remains the same. Why waste so many extra steps introducing random characters that only serve as archetypes to further your personal bullshit?
Starring everybody…and me.
The wide reach of the cast coupled with Johnson’s lackluster direction offers up something for the target audience. The woke have their hero in Marta, the Left can follow half of the family and the Right can wonder why the police haven’t locked up these filthy vagrants already. Good times are had by all, as Daniel Craig gets to put on Hick face and play as a joke/surrogate for whomever needs him.
But, do you really want to know why you’re dumb for liking this? You made it this far, I guess it’s time to pull a Benoit “Choke” Blanc style explanation out of my butt.
If you enjoy Knives Out, it’s because you were a mark. Your biases were acknowledged and baited. No one did anything that challenged you. And it ended with a fulfillment of your fantasies. This is literally the experience that the gentry gets with the Popcorn Cinema you so love to besmirch. The road goes both ways, people.
For as much money as Lionsgate has spent on TV advertising, I’m hoping Knives Out breaks even. They’re a good studio that got suckered into making an ego stroke for a director that can’t help but make ego stroke movies anymore. But, he got to invite a subsect of others into the ego stroke. All on the studio dime!
Expectations were subverted, the meek became mighty and the bad guys were punished. It didn’t hurt the bad guys all looked a way that is out of favor with Woke Twitter. But, that’s how you pull off a caper/heist/magic trick/poorly constructed murder mystery. You bait the slack jaws in the audience into not looking at what’s going on behind the curtain.
If you’ve read this far and you want to get even madder…the Charlie’s Angels piece will be up by the weekend. Have a good holiday and stimulate the economy on Friday.