Spoilers will be afoot.
I got my hopes for this movie. It’s been a minute since I’ve seen a whodunit properly done, a mystery with a trail that clearly takes you to the wrong conclusion and then spins a web to show you there’s more you missed. And yes, this film accomplishes a lot of what it promises but you might suspect I have a few things to add. The truth is, I’ve been starving for a well done murder mystery since Sherlock and even that show lost its way in the later seasons. Let’s get sleuthing.
Knives Out is the product of director and writer Ryan Johnson. I’m glad I didn’t do any major research on the film except for a couple of local reviews, because I didn’t see the film knowing this was the director from a movie from the new Star Wars franchise. I know now there’s some controversy whether or not detractors from that movie are unfairly influencing the rating on this one. Suffice to say, I’m only talking about him directing this film in this post and my experience with this movie alone.
A famous writer of murder mystery novels, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, still an icon), celebrates his 85th birthday in company of his dysfunctional family. Later during the night he is discovered dead by a knife to the throat. The murder is judged a suicide, but then the family is summoned back the state as the police investigating the case are joined by renowned detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).
Under suspicion are Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) and their rebellious son Ransom (Chris Evans), Harlan’s son Walt Thrombey (Richard Shannon) with wife Donna (Riki Lindhome, from Garfunkel and Oats!) and their super-republican son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) and Harlan’s daughter-law and widow to his son Neil Thrombey, Joni (Toni Collette) and social activist daughter Meg (Katherine Langford).
We’ll get to know them in the first act, but our point of view character appears a step later – it’s registered nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas). As a matter of fact, it’s Marta who we learn the truth from. You see, she has a rather strange quirk. Every time that she says a lie, she ends up regurgitating. She’s almost immediately enlisted as Blanc’s sidekick due to her all-too-convenient honesty and the circumstances exempt her from being a suspect. At least, for now.
Also assisting but mostly being belittled and ignored by everyone, are the actual police officers Detective Lieutenant Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Sagan). Rounding up the cast are housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) and the mostly immobile Great Grandmother Wanetta Thrombey (K Callan). Surprisingly, we don’t get a butler. You almost expect Colonel Mustard to walk around the corner.
With all these pieces on the board, I was hoping for a twist or two Agatha Christie style, but although we do get one, I have to confess I almost felt cheated. I would have gladly stayed an hour for more twists and turns. We almost immediately can discard most of the cast and focus on the protagonists. Yes, we do get backstabbing and a twist, but it does seem that we could’ve involved more of the cast in the fun. They certainly seemed up for it when we started.
The cast is used to great effect for about half the film, when we hear different points of view, a fight between Harlan and grandson Ransom, and even some all-too-familiar-family-banter where politics are discussed in the usual privileged-patronizing tone of an upper class family. I don’t think that was too much on the nose, families do tend to have polarizing points of view. There’s never a clear winner, and when they try to drag Marta into the issue (there’s a running joke in which they all believe she comes from a different South American country) and you know the poor girl wants none of it.
Here’s the thing, as much as I hoped for more, I could have gotten a lot less. Overall, it’s entertaining, some of the characters might seem like a parody until you start considering how basic some people can get nowadays, while others are engaging and human enough to be believable. The contrived plot is over the top, as well as the circumstances because of course it is – but it does provide for twists and turns. It never felt long or overdrawn. The Southern drawl from Daniel Craig’s character is probably the hardest thing you have to get through.
Recommended with some minor reservations. It works as both a comedy and a parody of a detective story. I wanted more of the cast involved on the twists. I did have one theory of an outcome that I hoped it was true in the end and had several signs pointing to it. Unfortunately, that was probably an ending that wasn’t used. Too bad, I would’ve cheered for that one. In the end, it’s not the perfect murder mystery, but it’s a solid comedy firmly rooted in that genre.
That will do for now.