Knives Out (2019): ‘The Resurgence of the Whoddunnit?’ – Film Review



Perhaps in answer to Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express, we have started to see many of these old style genre films, the ‘whodunnit?’s resurfacing. Fitting the themes of the day of looking back to a past where things were simpler. The ‘whodunit?’ is a well-known formula format of the detective story, that many are perhaps able to imitate and stylistically make their own. Knives Out is the latest feature by Rian Johnson, perhaps mostly famous for his take on Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi , which, at best, challenged audiences. Whether this is an attempt at a comeback or a chance to explore style, Knives Out also has a number of names attached, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette and Ana de Armas, to name a few. The big question would be whether there is substance or if this is just a cash grab attempt to follow films like Murder on the Orient Express.


Giving Flavours

So, with these films we have stories that are so familiar they lend a chance for elaborated, quirky or perhaps even strange characters, in a situation that can also lend itself to the film’s style. The actors quite obviously have fun with their roles and we see some surprising performances by some of the cast members. It’s also shot with a style that seems real but not quite true to life. The filmmakers, are also, having fun with it. In particular, Ana de Armas puts in a wonderful performance, which emotionally runs true to life and connects with us in a way that interestingly takes focus. The idea of who is good and who is bad, and who is the protagonist, is an intriguing question in Knives Out; and it largely informs the excitement of the film. Daniel Craig is also entertaining in this film, if only for being wildly out of his typecast for this role.


Tried and Done

The issues arise with the standardised genre format. We know these stories really well. We also have seen their hay day been and gone. The style is somewhat deadpan compared to modern filmmaking and we should be given films that explore characters and performance to really make it work. Here, the actors are having fun but largely due to the matter-of-fact way that they are told to us and not shown, they end up as caricatures – seen not felt. Whilst the central idea is played with, we have a lot of side line standardisation.  We are all to gather together to hear announcements, we are each to be interviewed. There are lies, there are things out of place. Unfortunately, the way to get these films to really start to show their characters and narrative strengths would actually to take a cue from Film Noir films like The Big Sleep or Laura But instead we just get a tribute.




Much like a loving homage, it keeps the problems whilst beautifully telling the same types of stories. There is something there, characters to like and fall for, but surrounding it is a film unsure how to build a world that’s gripping and interesting. This is much like a tribute. We have some wonderful performances from a great cast and the filmmakers lovingly construct a film around them – as they should. There is just room for improvement.



The head of a household dies from apparent suicide but a famous detective has been hired to find out what’s beneath the surface.




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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

Murder on the Orient Express (d.Kenneth Branagh USA/Malta 2017)

Knives Out (d. Rian Johnson USA 2019)

Laura (d. Otto Preminger USA 1944)

Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (d. Rian Johnson USA 2017)

The Big Sleep (d. Howard Hawks USA 1946)


Further Reading

Official Site

Cast Interviews

Rian Johnson Interview

Steve Yedlin (Cinematographer) Interview

Behind the Scenes

Clips, Trailers and B-Roll



If you liked this

Murder on the Orient Express (2017): ‘Performing a Book’ – A Film Review

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017): ‘Failure and the Risk of the New’ – A Film Review

Blade Runner 2049 (2017): ‘Real or Imitation?’ – A Film Review

This was an analytical review of….


Knives Out (d. Rian Johnson USA 2019)

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