Knives Out is a movie about wealthy crime story novelist Harlan Thrombey, (Christopher Plummer) who is found dead at his mansion just after his 85th birthday celebration. He built his literary empire by writing books that are much in the vein of the story the audience is watching with this film. Foul play is afoot, with all of Harlan’s eccentric family members as suspects, and renowned detective Beniot Blanc (Daniel Craig) on the case.
It’s been awhile since there’s been a truly great murder mystery that’s also fun and entertaining, as opposed to simply being dour. Clue from 1985 comes to mind (as does a very special Saved by the Bell murder mystery dinner episode), with the delightful Tim Curry leading an all-star cast in that movie. Similarly, Knives Out features an amazing cast of Chris Evans (Captain America), Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween), Don Johnson (Miami Vice), Toni Collette (United States of Tara), Michael Shannon (Man of Steel), and relative newcomer Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049) all blending like a Dream Team of actors playing harmoniously together, just like the USA Olympic basketball team of ‘92.
My sister and I used to wear out the VHS copy we had of Clue growing up, with that film being more on the campy side, and Knives Out being more Sherlock Holmes smarts, with humor as a byproduct. Both films employ a novel method of following multiple characters through their own unique point of view perspectives, rather than simply highlighting the main character’s journey, as most films do. Knives Out starts the story in this fashion, before making the switch to the traditional main character point of view in the second act of the movie. The switching of styles adds a freshness to it all, as well as a deeper understanding of the other characters’ motivations throughout the rest of it, since the audience has already walked in their shoes, so to speak. You’ve got to come original, as 311 would sing, and both Clue and Knives Out do that to amusing results.
It’s highly entertaining to watch Chris Evans go from the ultimate goody-two -shoes role of Cap that he has embodied for the past eight years, back to the douchebag he played so perfectly early on in his career, in films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and as the Human Torch in Fantastic Four. The same is true when watching Daniel Craig break out of the mold of 007 to play a goofy, yet sly, detective. The list goes on and on: Jamie Lee gets to have fun again instead of being chased by Michael Myers, Don Johnson is visibly enjoying it all like he’s back in Nash Bridges, and Toni Collette and Michael Shannon get to let their supremely silly sides out. They’re all masters of their craft, and it’s a blast to watch because writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, The Last Jedi) weaves it all together beautifully.
There are twists and turns that I won’t spoil, but I will say that this whole well-to-do family is a hot mess, and everyone is a suspect, with their own motives that are laid out early in the film. There’s an entertainment factor in watching the rich struggle just as much as the rest of us, because the general assumption is that they have it made. “Mo money mo problems” as Biggie Smalls used to say, is definitely an apt description in this case.
Another interesting theme woven into the film is the hot button topic of imigration. Two characters have an argument about the merits of putting kids in cages, one being on the side of it being cruel and unusual, and the other taking the stance that it’s fair punishment for “breaking the law.” America is torn into two about matters like this, not unlike how this film family is torn by greed. It’s a theme that makes its way back into the movie, to make the audience mull over their own thoughts on these deep matters, instead of simply just going along for the ride of a fun murder mystery.
(Small spoiler below)
Serious matters aside, a funny, yet some may say “cheap” plot device is that the caregiver character Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) is like Abe Lincoln in that she cannot tell a lie, because she vomits anytime she does. This becomes quite useful to detective Blanc, and also in moving the story along. The barfing does add to the humor of the film, but I can see it as a valid criticism, small in my opinion as it may be. The rest of the movie is done in such a witty manner, my hat is off to Rian Johnson, who should stick to original films like this, instead of dividing Star Wars fandoms.
If you want to see a rollicking good murder mystery, then go see Knives Out! I give it 4.5 out of 5 hot sauce packets! The only thing it’s really missing is romance, but how many films can have it all, other than my all-time favorite Casablanca? I’m often concerned with the entertainment factor of a film (Because why else do we go to the movies, other than to maybe gain an insight or two about ourselves and human nature in general?), and Knives Out has that in spades!