With Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson shows that his bona fide blockbuster outing with Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the exception that proves the rule: here, we are back into the familiar auteur stylings of Looper or Brick. An ensemble cast, classically styled whodunit plot, and a standout soundtrack ground Johnson’s next filmic foray.
In this trailer we meet the Robinson family; Detectives Troy Archer (LaKeith Stanfield) and Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) are investigating the murder of the head of the household (Christopher Plummer). Conflict ensues as the investigators delve deeper into the family’s doings.
For a boisterous clash of egos, what better then than Frank Sinatra’s “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” (1955) to score the proceedings? Besides the obvious morbid lyrical connection, the orchestration carries an effortless sense of drama and style befitting the tone of the trailer’s scenes.
The trailer aurally begins predictably enough, with the tired-but-tested single piano note ringing out just eight seconds in. However, the piano lines careens upwards through a mysterious arpeggiation in tandem with the opening expository dialogue. Notably, at 0:24 we see a hand literally, diegetically, play a single piano note—perhaps a playful acknowledgement of this tired trope.
At 0:29 the Sinatra tune begins and we are plunged into a markedly nostalgic blend of jazzy orchestration, culminating in an early climax at 0:39 at Daniel Craig’s character suavely walks on scene. After a bit of dialogue sans music, Sinatra’s reverb-drenched voice enters at 0:47.
At 1:10 another layer of action-oriented percussion is layered atop the Sinatra track, effectively trailerizing the original tune until at 1:25 we hear drumming that is far and away more akin to epic music than anything from the 50s.
At 1:38 we hear yet another twist on the track as the last “live” of the song is enlongated through some almost unnatural-sounding chromatic harmony; by 1:41 we expect it to end, but it keeps going, with a flipping coin interspersed between actors’ title cards and the seemingly incredulous faces of the actors themselves.
In yet another twist, the trailer ends on a comedic moment as yet unseen in the trailer: “What is this—CSI: KFC?” Chris Evans’ character deadpans. The refusal to conform to any particular editing convention befitting a single genre speaks to the film’s irreverence and what promises to be a film that seeks substance through style, not unlike the immediately identifiable aesthetics of, perhaps, Tarantino or Wes Anderson.
The final title card for the film at 2:07, with its bouquet of knives, matches almost too well with Sinatra’s final note on the word “die.”
Knives Out hits theatres on American Thanksgiving.
— Curtis Perry