TL;DR – A charmingly delightful film about murder filled with fantastic performances and a real heart.
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
For reasons that are far above my pay grade, there are film genres that come in and out of fashion all the time. One of these is the murder-mystery. I honestly can’t remember how long it has since I have seen a good old-fashioned murder-mystery up on the big screen. A film where you don’t know who done it because everyone is lying about something and there are many motives to go around. Well fear no more because today I get to talk about a film that takes this genre and not only produces a great version of it, but it also elevates the genre in the process.
So to set the scene, one-night wealthy murder-novel writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is celebrating his 85th birthday with every member of his extended family in attendance. There is his daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) the real estate mogul and her husband Richard (Don Johnson), his son Walt (Michael Shannon) who runs his publishing agency, Joni (Toni Collette) the wife of his now-deceased son and her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), and of course the black sheep of the family Hugh ‘Ransom’ Drysdale (Chris Evans). It is a fun evening of catching up and putting plans into place but the next morning as Fran (Edi Patterson) the housekeeper brings up his morning meal she discovers that Harlan has killed himself in the night. A week later everything has settled but then Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s nurse, is called back to the house with the family by Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) because famed private eye Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has been hired to look into the matter. Why is he there? Well because someone does not think Harlon’s death was suicide… they think it was murder. Now because of the nature of the film, it is hard to discuss it without getting into spoilers, so keep that in mind if you have not seen the film.
There are so many fun little moments throughout the film that make the film so compelling and the first thing that really shows this is the completely charming cast. Probably the first thing you will notice is Daniel Craig walk on the screen and then just go to town with his southern drawl accent. It is so different from anything I have ever heard him use before that it is both deeply bizarre but also completely compelling because he sticks to it for the entire run time so you just go for the ride. Every single cast member (and this films cast list is stacked) is giving different and unique performances that make me have to go back to rewatch this later. Of this cast, I have to give a shout out to Jamie Lee Curtis who steals just about every scene she is in, with her eyes alone. Of course, you then have Chris Evans who is revelling in the chaotic ball of energy that is Ransom and delivers probably one of the most genuinely funny moments that I have seen in the cinema this year.
However, while the film is having a good time with its self, and that is a lot of fun, it is also not afraid to have something to say about the world through this family. Throughout Knives Out our audience point of view character for most of the film is Harlan’s nurse Marta. It is here where we see the reality of class divisions and the disingenuous way we treat people from immigrant communities. Everyone tells Marta that she is one of the family and that it wasn’t their fault she could not come to the funeral (they were outvoted). However, those words are soon shown for the meaninglessness that they are.
Not a single member of the family can actively say where Marta and her family are from. They denigrate her and her story without even knowing it and drag her into the whole process. But more than that, at the first possible instance they are willing to not only throw her under the bus but threaten her and her family with deportation. It is a film that is about power imbalances and just how easily nice middle-class people (well more rich here) are ready to exploit that power imbalance for their own personal gain. Ana de Armas gives such a powerful performance as Marta and completely deserves all the accolades that are going to be coming her way because of it.
Another area where the film shines is in the production that exemplifies both the history of the murder-mystery genre but also this films quirky in-built mythology. You see this from the opening of the film where the musical score is not content to hide but comes blasting out to demand attention. All throughout the film the stylistic choices of the art department, the set designers, and the costumers just bring so much to the characters and the world. You see this in the cars they drive, the sweaters they wear, and in the elaborate knives circle on display in the house for some reason. This eclectic nature of the film can also be seen in its story that jumps back in time constantly to reveal and hide things that need to be revealed or hidden. It helps muddy the waters so that you are not sure even with the early reveal just who is responsible for Harlon’s death, if anyone. This film is the king of Chekhov’s Gun because there is no random line of dialogue in the film, everything gets closure before the end.
In the end, do we recommend Knives Out? Absolutely. I had such a good time with this eclectically joyful film. The acting is incredible, the production is top-notch, and at no point does it rest on its laurels. I would really recommend checking this one out.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Knives Out
Directed by – Rian Johnson
Written by – Rian Johnson
Music by – Nathan Johnson
Cinematography by – Steve Yedlin
Edited by – Bob Ducsay
Production/Distribution Companies – Media Rights Capital (MRC), T-Street, Lionsgate & Studio Canal
Starring – Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, Frank Oz, M. Emmet Walsh, Marlene Forte & Shyrley Rodriguez.
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13