Put simply, Knives Out is an old-fashioned whodunit set in a postmodern world. It’s as if Mrs. Peacock could check Google on her cell phone, Colonel Mustard could burn rubber in his newly restored ’72 BMW coupe, and Professor Plum could sport a $825 Brunello Cucinello sweater while studying in the library.
Like the legendary board game of Clue, there’s the expected murder mystery and its assortment of colorful suspects. Unlike Clue, these suspects are equipped with today’s glib expressiveness, four-letter words, and a nasty appetite for the “might makes right” ideal.
Writer/Director/Producer Rian Johnson obviously adores Agatha Christie-inspired murder mysteries – so much so that he can make fun of them with respectful reverence and cunning satire. He loves his characters, even the despicable ones. And, although there aren’t many characters for us to root for, Rian provides enough humor, twists, and captivating settings to keep us on our toes.
When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is declared dead by knife-to-the-throat suicide in his gigantic faux-goth mansion, the infamous Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired anonymously to further investigate. Through his thick, southern drawl and cunning blue eyes, Blanc interviews each member of the Thrombey family in front of a more than conspicuous sculpture of small, large, and very sharp knives.
The editing of these interviews is the movie’s greatest feat. Instead of running each one in chronological order, Rian overlaps quick-witted responses of each character to the same question. Each family member is rich in personality and very much interested in the assets of Harlan’s will: Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis) is Harlan’s eldest daughter with her own real estate company; Richard (Don Johnson) is her greasy greedy husband; Hugh “Ransom” Drysdale (Chris Evans) is their spoiled brat son; Walter Thrombey (Michael Shannon) is Harlan’s youngest son and acting CEO of his dad’s publishing company; and Joni Thrombey is Harlan’s daughter-in-law and lifestyle pundit. There are many more, but the most important character of the movie is actually Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas whose innocent facial expressions resonate Maria de Medeiros in the masterpiece, Pulp Fiction). Marta is the glue to the fragmented plot, the primary protagonist, and the voice of reason.
In a way, Marta is the “straight man” while all the other characters go to town with their wacky innuendos and conniving alibis.
Daniel Craig is probably the most impressive on the screen as he turns his previous James Bond British charm into a likable, inquisitive detective of the Deep South. He has a perfect record in solving cases, but the devious Thrombey clan couldn’t be any more imperfect. His facial reactions to the fiasco are priceless.
Overall, whether you like murder mysteries or not, Rian Johnson provides enough eccentric character development and guessing to keep any average moviegoer entertained for two hours. The final reveal isn’t a cop-out, there’s a satisfying resolve, and the humor is properly placed between the action.
If the game of Clue came to life and received lessons on social media from millennials, this would be the documentary. I’m not sure if that’s a commendation, but I did enjoy Knives Out very much.
Knives Out **** out of *****