Film Reviews

Knives Out: A whirlwind who-dunnit

A star-studded cast complete Rian Johnson’s devilishly slick and well-crafted murder mystery, in a fitting homage to tales of old.

Knives Out

Starring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and Christopher Plummer

It is surely no coincidence that the stately home of Harlan Thrombey, the wealthy murder-mystery novelist whose death sparks the events of Knives Out looks precisely like the house in Cluedo. In fact, everything about Rian Johnson’s creation is a throwback to classic mysteries, especially in the vein of Agatha Christie. We have, of course, the murder victim. We then have the large residence, complete with trick windows and secret passageways. We also have the suspects, each as suspicious as the last, and Johnson clearly has fun both casting the blame in each character’s direction while also subtly and deftly planting the clues to the ultimate conclusion of the storyline.

Most of the joy of Knives Out comes from this journey of the mystery unfolding before you, like a road emerging from the horizon. In broad strokes, the action of Knives Out revolves around solving the mystery of the demise of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a famed murder mystery novelist. Found in his study with his throat slit, his death was originally ruled a suicide, though Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a Southern private detective, is less than convinced. In concert with Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and police officer Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), we are introduced to the various players on the night of Harlan’s death; each with particular convincing motives after Harlan celebrated his 85th birthday.

There’s ruthless daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), a real estate mogul, alongside her husband Richard (Don Johnson); snivelling son Walt (Michael Shannon), who makes a living off publishing his father’s books; and widowed daughter-in-law and influencer Joni (Toni Collette). Rounding out our suspect list is Joni’s daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), a woke college student, Walt’s alt-right son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) and the dark horse of the family Ransom (Chris Evan), the spoiled playboy son of Linda and Richard.

After an 85th birthday party in which Harlan seemingly managed to provide every attendee with a reason for murdering him, Benoit turns to Harlan’s nurse and trusted confidante Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) to help him solve the case. With Marta’s unfortunate affliction of vomiting whenever she lies, she is the perfect companion to help Benoit get to the centre of this mystery.

Despite the formidable star power of this film, the cast is in fact headed by de Armas. Her relative status as a newcomer adds to her character’s sense of wide-eyed fish-out-of-water Marta, and she is truly the beating heart of this story. Deftly supporting her are the stellar performances delivered by the rest of the cast, even though Craig’s accent sounded eerily like wading through molasses.

Heaped on top of the actual murder is the unravelling and exploration of all of the characters involved, ultimately leading to the not-so-subtle conclusion that rich people are generally quite awful. Especially rich white people, as well as the corrupting influence of inherited wealth and the sense of bizarre ownership over this. The Thrombey family are so strangely entitled to the fortunate that Harlan himself accrued, despite having done nothing whatsoever to earn it. Even the more liberal amongst their company still show their own subtle snobbery and entitlement by the end of the movie. In particular, this is highlighted through the repeated treatment of Marta who, despite being constantly named as “one of the family”, was not invited to the funeral (even though each of the family members privately confides in her that “I thought you should’ve been there, but I was overruled”) and the continual lack of remembering which south American country she hails from.

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I can wax lyrical about how brilliant this film is, but it will simply mean nothing to you until you take the time to watch it. It is simply a masterclass into well-paced and well-crafted storytelling and will keep you guessing up until the last minute.

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