Underneath my yellow skin

Knives Out (two reviews)–part two

I am reviewing Knives Out, the very popular Amazon movie by Rian Johnson that has been talked about ad nauseam on social media. The first half of my review is here, and this is the second part of the brutally honest review. Not coincidentally, I’ll be talking about the second half of the movie, which is where everything really went to hell and back. Let’s take it from the end of my last post.

I looked up Rian Johnson while I took a break from the movie. That’s when I found out his first movie was Brick and everything fell into place. It was moody and dripping with atmosphere, and it was pretentious as hell. It was raved about, and I found it highly overrated. I didn’t want to watch the second half of this movie; I really didn’t. However, I felt a push inside to do so. Why? For a few reasons. One, I was tired of not being able to talk about the hot new thing. I don’t like to bash things I haven’t seen/heard/read, etc. Two, my OCD traits do not like to let things go unfinished. I have, obviously, but it really makes me uncomfortable. Three, I was doubting myself. The chatter for this movie was so overwhelmingly positive, I had to be missing something, right? The movie was going to pull something out of its ass in the second half that would totally redeem it. RIGHT?????

I was, alas, too optimistic. I pretty much knew how the rest of the movie was going to go within the first five/ten minutes of the movie (minus a few twists and turns), and I thought, “Surely it can’t be this obvious, can it?” I read that Rian Johnson implored people not to give away the twists of the movie which made me snort out loud. I’ll get to all that later–if I remember.

Here’s the thing. The movie doesn’t hold together if you think about the individual aspects. In addition, it’s very much a popcorn movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it has aspirations of being above that station and is talked about in lofty terms. If I had gone into it with the mentality of ‘this is a B movie with an outstanding cast’ I might not have been as hard on it as I was going in thinking it’s a fantastic ensemble movie with a mile-a-minute thrills.

I’d like to make a side note that is pertinent to the movie in general but not about the plot per se. I don’t watch movies much. In fact, the last movie I watched in the theaters was Guardians of the  Galaxy (original). I have sensory issues which is one reason I don’t like movie theaters, but in general, movies don’t capture my attention the way, say, books do. I know how that sounds. Believe me, I do. I also don’t watch much television, either. Same thing. I know how it sounds so I don’t talk about it much, but I’ll be blunt.

I don’t need to watch eccentric rich white people acting up in a movie. I’m surrounded by that (though maybe not the rich part) in real life. I’ve seen tons of movies/TV shows/books that have that gaze, and it’s fucking boring to me. I’ve even privately started calling it ‘white people doing white people things’. Don’t tell me it’s universal because it isn’t. Or rather, it is, but not in this specific way. This is so white people cray (and even more specifically, upper-class American), and I don’t have time for it.

The immigration issue I mentioned in the last post? Not only did it make me irritated for being so ham-fisted, it made me angry. It felt like cookie seeking in a ‘look at how woke I am’ sort of way. It’s kind of a tokenism for issues in which you want credit for tackling the issue without, you know, actually tackling the issue. The defense of ‘it’s not the main point of the movie’, well, then don’t have it in there! It may not be the main point of the movie to tackle the politics of immigration, but it’s central to the plot even if in a tangential way. The main character’s mother is undocumented, so that’s held over her (Marta) head. It’s all too glib and pat, and it’s nothing we haven’t seen a million times before.

Here’s the thing. If you’re going to include high-stakes issues, then you have to handle them with care. If you can’t/won’t commit to that, then leave it the fuck out. I see it as part of this movie trying to do too many things and being too many things, and I thought it failed to succeed in any of them because it was trying too hard to be everything to everyone.

The second half really went off the rails for me. The first barely held it together by the sheer strength of the acting from most of the cast. I mentioned Marta (Ana de Armas) in the last post and how she’s a cipher. Since she’s the main-ish character, she has to carry the bulk of the movie on her slender shoulders. She gave it her best, but the problem is, even in a movie crammed full of stereotypes, she’s so exaggerated, I don’t recognize her.

She’s portrayed as this sweet, wholesome young woman who is so averse to lying, she vomits when she utters an untruth. I’ve mentioned already how much I hated that mechanic because it’s so clumsy. Also, is it played for laughs? I’m not entirely sure. I suppose you could say that’s genius on the part of Johnson, but I just couldn’t stop rolling my eyes every time it happened.

I kept thinking there had to be more to Marta than was portrayed. Early on, my brain came up with a million ways that she was the devious mastermind behind the whole thing because it couldn’t be the way it was unfolding, could it?

That was my biggest thought during the whole movie. “This isn’t really going to happen the way I think it is, is it?” And every time, yes, it was. For all the twists and turns and diabolical flourishes that Johnson crams into the movie, the plot is surprisingly prosaic and trite. When you strip away all the flair, what you think is obvious is what actually happens. Early on in the movie, I dismissed the obvious answer as being way too, well, obvious. Ninety minutes later, I found out that it was exactly as I thought it was in the beginning, and that made my disappointment even more intense at the end.

I haven’t even gotten to the ending which was the worst part of the movie. The last ten minutes encapsulated all I hated about the movie and dashed away any good will I had for the movie, which was admittedly little. I think I was supposed to gasp and be amazed at the last plot twist, but that was the one I dismissed as too obvious in the first fifteen minutes or so. Every revelation Blanc made further flattened the movie for me because it was clear it was supposed to be such a surprise! But it wasn’t. At all.

I’m a mystery aficionado, and I’ve read probably a thousand mysteries. I can usually peg the killer and the plot twists fairly early on. That’s not the part that annoyed me about this movie–what annoyed me was that I think I wasn’t supposed to be able to know what was going to happen. Johnson clearly took a lot of  pride in his cleverness and there are clearly many people who agree with him. Mostly, though, I’m annoyed at myself for buying the hype. I know better, but I really wanted to be in on the happening thing for once.

I think what I’m surprised about by this movie is how little of substance it actually has. I watched it a few days ago, and I’m already having trouble summoning up any feelings about it. I remember the plot and what happened. I remember the performances and how great most of them were. I just don’t care about it at all. My hatred has mellowed into a mild dislike, and I while I know I’ve watched the movie, I don’t feel like I’ve watched it. It’s utterly disposable, and I’m mad at myself for wasting a movie chit to watch it since as I said, I don’t watch movies often.

What have I learned from this? Stick to my intuition. It’s rare when I take an instant dislike to something that I’ll change my mind. This was not one of those times, and I’ll do better in the future.


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