Judging by the trailers, Knives Out has all the trappings of a classic whodunit. A large and stately manor (in New England, no less). A cast of eccentric and mildly suspicious characters played by A-list actors. A no-less-eccentric detective who always cracks the case. Oh, and of course, a murder. One could be forgiven for thinking that this is another Agatha Christie murder mystery adapted for the screen. One could also be forgiven for thinking this is your standard murder mystery. But it’s not. I recently heard someone say that the first act of a film or play starts with the marketing. For Knives Out, this is absolutely true. While the trailers and posters suggest a film in the vein of a standard whodunit, Knives Out isn’t that movie. It’s better.
The film begins with a great sequence introducing us to the house of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), somebody who interestingly enough made their fortune writing mystery novels. The house itself is old and ornate, evoking the classic Christie manor, and filled with masks and marionettes. These don’t come into play but do tell us that this is a house of strange characters. And after Harlan Thrombey is discovered dead in his room with his throat slit, we meet those characters.
There’s Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), who seems closest to her father out of anyone in the family, but that’s hardly saying anything. Her husband Richard (Don Johnson) seems the most normal on the surface but has secrets of his own. One the weirder side of things, we have Harlan’s daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) who promotes a “New Age” lifestyle and is a self-described “influencer.” Her daughter, Meg (Katherine Langford) goes to college thanks to Harlan paying her tuition. Next, we have dim-witted Walt (Michael Shannon), who was given Harlan’s publishing empire to “run” as a token gesture, and his son Jacob (Jaedon Martell), who is described at best during the film as an online troll and at worst as a “Nazi child.” Later on in the film we meet Harlan’s other son, Ransom (Chris Evans), who’s considered the black sheep of the family.
But if these kooky characters sound intriguing, those who investigate them are not to be overlooked. Famed detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) arrives on the scene, or rather appears lounging in an armchair for some time until inquired about. Craig adopts a southern drawl for the role, and boy is it slathered on thick. It’s over the top and a hoot, but there’s also something soothing about it. The same could be said for the character, which Craig portrays with the “bless your hearth” Southern attitude of kindness mixed with biting wit. He continuously delivers odd yet amusing expressions, which Craig sells with an earnestly that makes them all the more humorous. The film has a couple of standout moments, and the speech Blanc delivers about donuts is one not likely to be forgotten. Aiding Blanc are two official police detectives (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan), who have some fun banter. Last but not certainly not least we have Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) who Blanc requests to aid him in his search for the killer, due to a reflex she has which causes her to vomit if she tells a lie.
I don’t want to say much more about the plot, but it takes a few twists. Okay, more than a few. It boasts a couple of key twists, but also a bunch of smaller twists based around the conceit of Harlan having known mystery tropes inside and out, and being able to replicate them in his actions and around the design of the house. As I hinted at before, one of the biggest twists, if you can call it that, is the kind of movie Knives Out sets out to be. Did I mention Rian Johnson wrote and directed it? The man loves subverting expectations. For how this tendency is received, your mileage may vary.
Overall, Knives Out becomes a more intriguing film due to its genre-bending conventions, but there are moments in which it strays just a tad too far from the formula and has to wrangle itself back on course. The characters in Knives Out all have different political opinions related to America in 2019, and the film doesn’t really comment on any of them. But that doesn’t mean it lacks a political point of view. There’s a definite message to Knives Out.
While some may bemoan that Knives Out isn’t your classic whodunit, most fans of the genre will be thrilled that it makes a triumphant return in a contemporary setting. All the rage in the 70s, murder mysteries went out of style for a while. Knives Out certainly has style, and the film makes the most of it. It also boasts a lot of twists and turns, and wry comedic moments to go with them. It will keep you guessing, and laughing, and guessing and laughing some more.
Just as the cast of Knives Out seems to be having a grand old time, the film is a fun and rewarding watch. Rian Johnson delivers a script packed with twists and turns to rival the best whodunits, along with a healthy dose of comedy. This film is pointed in its message, and sharp in its wit.
- Knives Out