Knives Out Review: Whodunit Done Did It Very Well
A murder most foul, a room of offbeat suspects and a mysterious man with a strangely alluring accent all combine perfectly to create one of the best whodunit films of recent years, Clue…no, wait Knives Out. Sorry, I mean Knives Out.
Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), world famous murder mystery author, is found dead, his throat slit in what is presumed to be suicide. Someone, however, suspects foul play and has anonymously sought out Detective Blanc (Daniel Craig), a Southern legend in the PI world, to reveal what the true cause of Harlan’s demise was. Oh, the Murder Mystery irony. Of course, none of his doting family would ever harm their patriarch, not with all the help and support he bestows upon them. Benoit Blanc must wade through a sea of red herrings, back stabbings and self-serving sycophants to find out ‘whodunit’.
As Knives Out begins we are introduced to our stacked cast through their conversations with Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) who both shine as bit-part cast members, especially Wagner who enthusiastically fawns over of all things Murder Mystery. It’s the perfect way to set up the characters of this obscene world and feed the audience just enough to make each and every one of them a suspect.
Let’s meet the family shall we? Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the eldest child of Harlan. A ‘self-made’ real estate agent and a strong independent woman who doesn’t need her husband’s help in her business, just some set up money from Dad. Her husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) is almost a kept man and comes with a self-important attitude that makes him hard to tolerate. Together they created Hugh ‘Ransom’ Drysdale (Chris Evans), a spoiled, bitingly sarcastic playboy who only looks out for himself.
Walter ‘Walt’ Thrombey (Michael Shannon) is the youngest son and CEO of his father’s publishing company with desperate dreams of making a name for himself by adapting dear old Dad’s stories into blockbuster films. His drippy wife Donna Thrombey (Riki Lindhome) and alt-right online troll son Jacob Thrombey (Jaeden Martell) are mostly relegated to being background roles, maybe for the best considering what we hear about little Jacob’s political views.
Finally, we meet Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), the widow of Harlan’s deceased son, whose job is a little hard to pin down. She’s a lifestyle guru with a side of Instagram influencing and an online shop named Flam that sells spiritual/self-help items (seriously check out this amazing video of Joni selling Flam) …so of course she needs just a little financial help from Harlan, just until her business really takes off. Her daughter Megan ‘Meg’ Thrombey (Katherine Langford) is probably one of the nicer members of the family, and that really does comment on this family overall.
Unfortunately, someone from outside of the family has been dragged into this mess. Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) is the heart of this film and was Harlan’s nurse and favourite person to play Go with. Not only is Marta integral to the investigation, revealing an interesting trait that makes her the perfect witness, she is also the vessel for some hilarious social commentary. Is she from Ecuador or Paraguay? Does it even matter to this affluent white family? The power dynamics are what really matter and as the narrative progresses and the finger pointing reaches deadly levels there becomes a clear ‘us’ and ‘them’ divide.
“Chris Evans transforms from ‘America’s Ass’ to ‘America’s Asshole’ gloriously!”
Throughout these interviews, cast in shadows besides a grand piano sits a mysterious figure. One whose presence is announced simply by the repeated ringing of a singular key. There are many legendary sleuths of the big and small screen; Hercule Poirot, Jessica Fletcher, Sherlock Holmes and now Detective Benoit Blanc. I would happily watch numerous franchises follow this ‘Foghorn Leghorn’ accented man for years to come. Clearly, minus the shackles of his 007 character, Daniel Craig is having a hoot playing the ‘somehow over to the top and subtle all at once’ Detective. I’ll be first in line for tickets to watch CSI: KFC, the spiritual sequel to Knives Out.
Overall the ensemble cast seems to be enjoying playing outside of the box. Chris Evans transforms from ‘America’s Ass’ to ‘America’s Asshole’ gloriously, while passive aggressively eating biscuits and wearing the shit out of some ugly knit sweaters. Toni Collette channels Californian boho with the perfect amount of blind self-belief and utter self-destruction, clearly delighting in playing a ‘stoner’ type character. Then there’s Christopher Plummer, a man who made my heart sing in The Sound of Music, who had me falling in love with him all over again in this. His character may be dead at the beginning of the film but Plummer brings nothing but life to every flashback he is in from then on.
The credit for this wittily scripted and wonderfully delivered film of course goes to Writer/Director Rian Johnson. Johnson is an artist at dabbling in genres that have their own patterns and playing with these just enough to bring new life into them (something that certain die-hard fans did not appreciate, but we won’t get into that here!). Brick revitalizes the gritty world of Film Noir, Looper pushed cerebral weight back onto the Sci-Fi genre and now Knives Out homages Murder Mysteries of the past with flair and respect whilst grounding it with societal commentary on the class system of America. Not since The Usual Suspects has a mug held so much meaning at the end of a film.
Knives Out really needs to be credited on its rewatchability. Already I want to dive back in to search for the clues that Johnson’s sleight of hand directing made me miss. Hindsight, I believe, will simply be a flavour enhancer to this already delicious and comforting dish. With clever twists on staple genre conventions, a menagerie of gleefully awful and equally intriguing characters and a large heart planted firmly in the right place Knives Out has been one of the most enjoyable and fun films of 2019.