“I suspect foul play.”
Inside this sprawling, mischievous, hilariously macabre murder mystery is a film that’s so unafraid to sprinkle in a few necessary dashes of the socioeconomic disparity prevalent in our culture clashing world. It’s a playful movie, full of intensely calculated twists and turns, telling a story that actually offers up commentary on how the privileged interact with the lower class when they’re winning and can turn on a dime when they’re false reality goes up in smoke. Knives Out isn’t among my favorite films of the year for one glaring reason I’ll later explain, but it is undeniably one of the very most entertaining. This is the type of game you’ll want to play over and over again.
For the most part, Knives Out almost entirely takes place on the grounds of the renowned – and insanely rich – mystery writer Harlan Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) gothic mansion. The lecherous family slither through the door to celebrate his 85th birthday, arguments are had, and the next morning Harlan’s discovered dead, declared a slit throat suicide by Detective Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan). Most heartbroken by the news is Marta (Ana de Armas), a young nurse and caretaker who forged a close friendship with the octogenarian. After the funeral though, and before the imminent reading of the will, the clan is asked back for another round of questioning, this time with private eye detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) listening in from the background. He smells something foul afoot.
Initially, the script for Knives Out – penned by writer/director Rian Johnson – makes enticing creative decisions, allowing scenes to unfold from two different angles, showing us select truths and lies of what’s taking place. But he doesn’t ruin the mystery either. Is Harlan’s greedy real estate mogul daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband Richard (Don Johnson) guilty? Might it be their playboy son Hugh Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans), the handsome black sheep of the family. Maybe it’s Walt (Michael Shannon), who runs the publishing house, or his own alt-right, extremist son Jacob (Jaeden Martell). There’s also the pretentious Joni (Toni Collette), widow to Harlan’s late son Neil and her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), who attends an expensive liberal arts college at Harlan’s expense. All of these people lived off the patriarch at the story’s center, whether it be from nepotism or filthy rich food stamps, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch their world come crumbling down with every faux pas line and unhinged rant. Then there’s Marta, who literally can’t tell a lie without puking, left to fend for herself when the family’s appreciation for her work is unmasked to reveal vitriol like something out of a Scooby-Doo episode. She’s their prime suspect, but Benoit Blanc keeps his blue eyes peeled.
With impeccable production design, perfect costuming, a score from Nathan Johnson that is in and of itself a key witness to the proceedings, and perhaps the most definitive piece of ensemble acting this year, Knives Out is without a doubt a very fine film. Yet after watching it twice, I still can’t get over the fact that such a thoughtful, meticulously molded story literally spends fifteen languid minutes explaining away all of the details and nuances of the crime committed against the dearly departed. The intrigue of the investigation morphs into an all-knowing sermon by Benoit Blanc, and it grinds an otherwise outrageously fun film to an abrupt halt. Knives Out loses its showmanship to a long-winded, easy tell. But what a devilishly backstabbing delight the rest of it is.
“It makes no sense…compels me though.”
Rating: 4 out of 5