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Knives Out (4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray Review)

When it comes to modern filmmakers, Rian Johnson is an instant ticket purchased no matter what he’s doing. He’s proven over and over a knowledgeable student of film and a clever, thoughtful filmmaker with a fantastic ideology in the world of story craft and character work. The fact that this guy went and tackled an Agatha Christie style murder mystery is even more delicious and exciting. Just hearing of Knives Out, you knew this would be special and then the trailer made it one of the most exciting releases of the year. And it proved to be that old school star-led programmer people had been clamoring for as it continued to make a leggy run at the box office (Even, funny enough, surpassing The Rise of Skywalker in regular daily grosses late into its run). It found itself nominated for an Oscar, but could have easily been worthy of many more. The film is now available on 4K Ultra-HD Blu-ray (Apologies, review copies were sent out late for it), and you can order from the Amazon Associates link following the review.

Film

The circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) are mysterious, but there’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) knows for sure — everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Now, Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth.

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is the real deal and full on big moviegoing experience. It has a big and game cast, a clever script with good dramatics and thrills. A film that definitely feels well of the moment and built to last beyond it. An adult film that even some of the younger leaning audience members will get a kick out of. Something for the parents to make babysitter “night out” plans for. The kind of movie that when I was very young, I couldn’t wait to get old enough to check out those older skewing films. Now, its not a throwback film or retro in any kind of regards, its just something we once took for granted and now feels extra special in the sea of constant CGI blockbusters and safe storytelling affairs.

Easy enough, on the surface, the film has one of the most all-star casts seen in a long time for a wide release general audiences movie. But its beyond that heavy hitter cast that we find our lead is the up and coming Ana de Armas. She has been a part of plenty of notable films in recent years, but Johnson gives her the biggest break she’s had in leading the charge here. Treating her as something other than just having jaw dropping good looks, she is given a chance to show us what she has in terms of acting props. She’s dressed like a human being throughout and goes toe to toe with the most veteran presences that could absolute intimidate or sink a lesser actor. And de Armas shines about and really launches herself as a force to be reckoned with. This is truly one of the best breakout combos of role + performances we saw in the last decade. When she was cast in No Time To Die, she felt like the perfect compliment to a James Bond film. Now, after Knives Out, they are lucky to have her as she deserves her to lead her own James Bond type film.

Surrounding de Armas we have just too many veteran and younger acting wizards to champion in such a review. Christopher Plummer is an absolute delight to see chewing up and enjoying being a central figure in a classic murder mystery setting. His strength casts his spectre over every moment and character we see and investigate throughout. Daniel Craig hams it up but finds a fine line of being able to make his Benoit Blanc investigator still a human being rather than a glorified cartoon.  I always gush over Jamie Lee Curtis in such a commanding presence and absolutely finding strength of being able to play up such great humorous chops with such a force in playing straight. Then there’s Michael Shannon who is one of the finest performers working today in a quite an interesting role that feels at home in his wheelhouse. And its nice to see such a fun, bubbly, change of pace role for Toni Collette. As I said, these folks are a joy on their own, but a complete blast put together here.

Johnson’s film is so well crafted, clever and thought out that its almost a more enjoyable experience on the replays than it is on the first watch where you are interacting and trying to solve this yourself. Many little bits and pieces, both visually and through dialogue have been laid set not only to hold things together for the case, but for enjoyment in not quite catching or seeing the importance of said “throwaway” the first time around. As has been before with the likes of Brick, Looper and The Last Jedi, a Rian Johnson films continues to give long after you’ve seen it. His films are rich with inspirations, ideology, clues, depth and layering that they make for a completely fun study over and over. He’s not the only person he who does so working today, but his strength may be in the more natural way he weaves this information in and out. Rian Johnson has a full grasp on the medium of filmmaking and you’ll continue to see more things pulled from his films that we never found before years down the road.

The technical prowess of Knives Out is quite astonishing and the film is lovingly photographed and edited together. One of the things it does bring out and call great attention to is helping to highlight some of the other top tier efforts in the film as well. The sets and costume design for this film are quite of their own and pretty outstanding. The exteriors and interiors of the house are rich, having their own character while following under one uniformed umbrella that comes off quite natural. In terms of costuming, this movie has its own style and an aggressive love of fancy sweaters. I know I’m not the first to say this, but we need a catalog of or a fashion line of Knives Out sweaters in some department store. Heck there was even a #KnivesOutChallenge (Started by Patrick Willems) on Twitter dedicated to showing off your finest sweater attire. Rian Johnson even got involved with a cool pic from the set of The Last Jedi.

A complete winner, Knives Out blazes a trail for a potential franchise and/or more murder mysteries or adult dramatic thrillers to add to our lexicon in the sea of “nothing but tentpoles” movie going climate. It owes and respects plenty to mysteries of old and at the same time modernizes and adds its own worthiness to that long lost art. And simply put, this is just a prime example of every single aspect of a film working at their highest level in great harmony with one another. The film is easily a water cooler piece, prescient, timely and with some good social ideal and reflection nicely tied in. Greatest film of all time or even its genre, lets not get crazy, but one of the most well put together products a studio could be into theaters.

Video

Disclaimer: Screen captures used in the review are taken from the standard Blu-ray disc, not the 4K UHD Blu-ray disc.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail: While Knives Out was mostly shot at 3.4K with a shot done at 5.1K, it was sadly finished with a 2K digital intermediate, making it a 4K upscale. Regardless, it does look very lovely and has an easily refined and discernible upgrade from its standard Blu-ray counterpart. Overall, the film has a the look of a lovely, rich painting and showcases plenty of detail and texture in its sharp, crisp frames that almost feel a piece of art themselves at times. A noticeable upgrade from the other format, this is one of those cases that argue an upscale is not bad and often can look quite impressive.

Depth: The film features a strong depth of filed and literally has a nice push down hallways and rooms. Character slide easily through every frame with good distancing and looseness showcased between them and the environment and surroundings. Movements are natural, cinematic and feature no issues handling rapid movements.

Black Levels:  The way the disc handles the blacks may be what sets it most apart from the Blu-ray counterpart. Hitting natural levels is obvious (Matching the matte lines easily), but also there is much more details, textures and patterns held in place and visible. It also helps to sharpen and define the image. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  Colors come through quite lovingly with a bold, well saturated palette. Clothing has some nice pop where appropriate as well as the fabrics, furniture and decor within the household. There is a nice glow added to outdoor lighting, phone displays and other little naturally glowing items.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Faces are nice and flush, fully and strong with their color and raging in visible details and textures clear as day from any distance. Make up brush strokes, blemishes, stubble, wrinkles, moles, pores and more are finely displayed.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Format(s): English Dolby Atmos, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French

Dynamics: Knives Out features a well done and fitting sound design for what the film is in its Dolby Atmos presentation. This is a pretty well grounded drama, rooted in many character to character and verbal exchanges. Some of the more “action-y” bits are told in flashback with the volume on the action down so a voiceover can prominently assure us this is in the past. However, the sound mix does have a great sense of restrain and doesn’t send this thing going over the top for no reason at all. This is pretty much the best presentation one could hope for on this, even if its not some big guns blazing film.

Height: There isn’t a lot to go crazy about from the overhead channel as the movie keeps it to only things that would be pertinent, with maybe the biggest highlight being the piece of the of debris that Ana de Armas breaks off with her foot climbing the house falling from above.

Low-Frequency Extension: The subwoofer keeps it natural with a pinch of heightened reality to doors slamming, car engines humming or something falling to the ground. All have a nice, warming thud to them.

Surround Sound Presentation: The design for this keeps every room in check, knowing a full 360 degree awareness as to what is going on. Vocals hit from good directions and follow with good accuracy from shot to shot. Sound travel is hauntingly natural and accurate from back to front or side to side. Environmental ambiance features a good quiet, but active attention to crafting a “in the room with the characters” feel on the film.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are at the forefront of what this movie is about and the track nails it. There is a good deep feel to every voice and all mouth sounds and diction are captured brilliantly.

Extras

Knives Out comes with the standard Blu-ray edition and a digital copy code.

Audio Commentary

  • With Writer / Director Rian Johnson, Director of Photography Steve Yedlin and Actor Noah Segan
  • In Theater Commentary With Rian Johnson

Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary By Rian Johnson (HD, 4:57)

Rian Johnson: Planning a Perfect Murder (HD, 6:17) – A featurette with Rian Johnson discussing mapping out and writing the screenplay for the film.

Making A Murder – Your full on making of, split into multiple sections that go over in good fluffy detail the full gamut of the film’s production full of talking head interviews and the like. Its some good, poppy insight and education on the film and as always Johnson is of great mind and wonderful to hear talk of his films and inspirations and the cast and crew fills it in nicely as well.

  • Premeditation: Inspirations & Origin (HD, 11:55)
  • Gathering the Suspects: The Cast (HD, 19:29)
  • Dressed to Kill: Costume Design (HD, 8:19)
  • The Scene of the Crime: Production & Design (HD, 13:05)
  • Visual Clues: Cinematography (HD, 11:51)
  • Putting the Clues Together: Editing (HD, 12:35)
  • Music to Kill For: Music & Sound (HD, 24:40)
  • Denouement: Whodunnit? (HD, 11:32)

Director and Cast Q&A (HD, 42:09) – A full Q&A session following a 2019 screening of the film in Westwood, CA.

Marketing Gallery

  • Teaser Trailer (HD, 2:12)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:35)
  • Final Trailer (HD, 1:08)
  • Ode To The Murder Mystery (HD, 1:43)

Meet The Thrombeys Viral Ads

  • Thrombey Real Estate (HD, :34)
  • Blood Like Wine Publishing (HD, :56)
  • Flam (HD, :34)

Summary

Rian Johnson’s Knives Out offers up the whole gamut of entertainment. Mystery, thriller, comedy, character drama, acting spotlights and more. Its one of the most enjoyable mainstream wide release movies we saw over the last decade and one that continues to develop and deliver upon every return to it. Lionsgate releases it with a handsome presentation in both audio and video while giving us a nice wealth of extras that are educational, fun and not too overwhelming or tiresome. This is an instant pick up and must have for the simple joy of just loving good movies.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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