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Knives Out (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Knives Out


Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Frank Oz, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, K. Callan, Noah Segan, M. Emmet Walsh, Christopher Plummer, K. Callan, Rob Lévesque and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt.

Screenplay by Rian Johnson.

Directed by Rian Johnson.

Distributed by Lionsgate. 130 minutes. Rated PG-13.

There is something quite thrilling about seeing a movie resurrect a dated film genre – bringing it up to date while still appreciating the traditions of the form.

Knives Out takes the old-fashioned parlor mystery – the Agatha Christie style whodunits in which a murder is brilliantly solved amongst a diverse group of people in a regal estate – and drags it into the new millennium.

And Knives Out reminds us how much fun the style can be. Writer/director Rian Johnson tweaks the formula a bit to make it palatable to modern audiences – this mystery involves things like cell phones, undocumented immigrants, marijuana and political divisiveness – but in the long run it relies on the traditional structure.

Knives Out is often very funny, but it certainly is not a satire of murder mysteries. Its plot is dense and full of twists, but it is not stodgy and old fashioned. In fact, it is quite wonderful. It is a terrific reminder of what mysteries were like in the pre-James Patterson world.

Technically, Knives Out is not a whodunit. We know who physically did the killing from early on. It is more like a whydunit; what outside forces led to the death? Even that is given an explanation early on, but what we are told feels like it may be a red herring – a false narrative.

If someone contributes to another person being killed without actually being the one who killed them, how responsible are they?

And the most important question, who killed Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), the best-selling mystery novelist in his huge gothic mansion on the night of his 85th birthday party?

As is traditional, there is an all-star cast playing the eccentric and flawed suspects who were there, and each one had a motive for the murder.

There is his tough-as-nails daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) – a self-made real estate tycoon – if you can be self-made when your business was originally funded by a multi-million-dollar loan by your dad. There is Linda’s obnoxious husband Richard (Don Johnson), a Trump supporter who has had a series of affairs but relies on his wife for his livelihood. There is their spoiled trust-fund baby son Ransom (Chris Evans), who despises his family but is more than happy to exploit their wealth.

Thrombey’s ineffectual son Walt (Michael Shannon) has been living on his dad’s work – running his publishing company – for decades but has been arguing with the old man lately. Wifty new-age daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) also has been relying on Thrombey to stay afloat. They both have spoiled kids, her pot-smoking daughter (Katherine Langford), and his alt-right son (Jaeden Martell).

Then there is the staff – the maid Fran (Edi Patterson) who found the body and Thrombey’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), who appears to be the only person that the old man liked and trusted… but she has a secret.

The case is being investigated by two ineffectual local cops (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) and an eccentric celebrity detective with the wonderful name of Benoit Blanc (a never-better Daniel Craig).

The game is afoot.

I’m not going to get further into the mystery and the plot points, because the whole fun of watching Knives Out is watching the whole twisty-turny story play out. I will admit that I was not surprised by who ended up being the killer (I was leaning towards them), but other people I have spoken with were, so Knives Out succeeds as a mystery – not too obvious, but not too unbelievable.

More importantly, it succeeds wonderfully as a film. Knives Out is smart, funny and entertaining. It is good old-fashioned entertainment which does not feel at all out of date. That’s a neat trick.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: November 27, 2019.

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