We gotta do this more often.
After the body of famed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is discovered at his estate, his death is ruled a suicide. As the family gathers to remember, each of them has one eye on Harlan’s assets and the second suspiciously upon one another. In the middle of it all is his personal nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), an immigrant’s daughter who appears more distraught over Harlan’s death than the entire family. On the eve of the will reading, enter Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a hired “gentleman sleuth” who requests the local police to indulge him in one final round of questions from everyone involved, for all may not be as it seems.
Making his name in technically complex ensemble productions, director Rian Johnson’s dysfunctional family mystery seems to be a step back from his previous time travel and space battle films. With an all-star cast including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, and Toni Collette, the Clue-board manor house is stocked with fancy backstabbers and well-dressed ne’er-do-wells with motives and means aplenty. Tens of millions in free money are on the line with no evidence of a single crime, so what possible mystery is lurking behind an open-and-shut case?
As a near-spoof of the genre with a sinister sense of whimsy, Knives Out is crafted with all the trappings, from last-minute discoveries to the grand reveal. Playing with classic themes, no parts are wasted and no dialog goes unnoticed; some of the best zingers are heard just off-screen as the plot zips along to the next scene. A visual device revealing truths while characters lie under questioning also establishes the usual suspects as their introductions. In spite of such a complex story with so many great characters, Johnson makes it look too easy as it effortlessly unfolds.
Akin to Shaun of the Dead in being both appreciative of genre elements while also a fresh entry, Knives Out is an equally self-aware dissection. Taking place in a successful writer’s home fills the production with references to genre works of fiction as well as those to the fictional author’s own, not to mention clever bits that relate to such mysteries as well as the plot; to say more spoils the fun. Everything is important and wraps around in the end, so eagle-eyed armchair sleuths will be rewarded for their skills. Anyone watching Ready or Not earlier this year may notice similar notions of class privilage and exploitation in the proceedings — minus the supernatural spin.
If this review appears to be tip-toeing around specifics, this is indeed a fact. Interestingly, viewers can see de Armas soon again as a femme fatale opposite Daniel Craig’s James Bond in No Time To Die. In the same way it was interesting to see Craig’s Southern-fried un-Bond-like sleuth, seeing de Armas transformed from mousey Marta to she-wolf will hopefully just as striking a turn. That said, might Benoit Blanc one day return to the silver screen to solve another odd mystery?
Knives Out is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, drug material, and being onto you from the very beginning.
Four skull recommendation out of four
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