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An early frontrunner for best movie of TIFF 2019, Knives Out surpasses all previous efforts from filmmaker Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper, The Last Jedi) to emerge as the fullest expression of his cinematic virtuosity to date. In striking a perfect balance of humour, social commentary, genre revisionism, and visual panache—think Tim Burton meets the Coen Brothers, at their respective best—the writer-director delivers the film he was probably born to make.
After Knives Out’s world premiere at TIFF, Johnson and members of his cast (including Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, and Christopher Plummer) reflected on the pleasure of making (and watching) this wildly entertaining murder mystery throwback.
Asked about the project’s origin, Rian Johnson offered an explanation no less intricate than the film itself, but don’t fear spoilers, as Knives Out’s never-ending string of complications and reversals make it virtually impossible to spoil. “The initial kernel of it was me just liking whodunits, wanting to do something with all the pleasures of a whodunit, and also kind of agreeing with Hitchcock that the whodunit kind of all depends on one big surprise at the end,” he explained. “That’s not that satisfying as a movie, so coming up with an idea of, ‘Okay, what if we did kind of the Columbo thing of it starts as a whodunit, turns into a thriller once we tip our hand… but a thriller where, unlike Columbo, you’re genuinely rooting for the person to get away with it.”
Watching the cast repeatedly crack jokes and break into laughter on stage offered a pretty good sense of the camaraderie they enjoyed on set. “I think we knew we were working with something special and we all just fully committed,” Collette said before praising her co-stars. “They’re all just such lovely, open, present actors to work with. It was a true joy, honestly—and to watch people who you hear about being serious actors pissing their pants with laughter during a take was so enjoyable.”
While the trailer for Knives Out (see below) only hints at the film’s real appeal, it does offer a helpful preview of the refreshingly theatrical acting style on display. According to Don Johnson, it wasn’t until he saw one of his co-stars in action that he felt confident about the excesses of his own performance. “I had sort of the first big family scene up and we launched into it and I felt like I was huge, over the top, and I went to Rian and I said, ‘Was that too big?’ And he goes, ‘No, that’s perfect.’ And then I saw Daniel [Craig] the next day, doing the scene where he’s calling all of us the vultures and stuff like that and I went, ‘I’m good.’”
Toward the end of the Q&A, Curtis received some praise from a member of the audience and seized the opportunity to articulate her philosophy about acting—and life in general. “My only goal is to tell the truth,” she explained. “Period. In all areas, by the way—politically, emotionally, romantically—to me, truth is art and that’s all I’ve ever tried to do is just tell the truth, no matter what it is.” Putting her money where her mouth is, she proceeded to reveal exactly how she feels about Knives Out, offering an opinion that many in the audience shared. “This is the first time I’ve seen the movie. It’s the first time many of us had. Rian, it’s just a fantastic movie! It’s a fantastic movie and I’m thrilled and honoured to be in it, part of it, and thank you for it. Thank you. Thank you!”
Knives Out arrives in theatres on November 27. Check out the trailer below.