Review: Knives Out Is an Ingenious Crowd-Pleaser
It might be reassuring to know that the titular weapons of Knives Out are not metaphorical, but appear in their full, perilous glory for all to see. In the study belonging to famed mystery novel writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), there sits a chair; behind it sits an ominous collection of daggers arranged in a circular display, all pointing directly at the chair’s occupant. The threat of a secret spilled manifests itself as the members of the wealthy Thrombey clan are each interrogated for their possible involvement in their patriarch’s demise—each one under the scrutiny of dozens of knives aimed in one direction.
Rian Johnson’s spectacular whodunnit gets down to business right away. On the morning after his 85th birthday, Harlan is found dead in the attic above his home with his throat slit. It’s a cut-and-dry case of suicide, according to the lead detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield, unusually straight-laced), but the flamboyant Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, thriving in this role) has other ideas. Hired anonymously, he knows that it’s not that simple, and is eyeing the relatives who all hold a motive for murder. “I suspect foul play,” he says in a brilliantly hammy southern drawl, “I have eliminated no suspects.”
Among them is Harlan’s oldest daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis, hardened but hilarious), a self-made businesswoman who got started on a small loan of $1 million. She strides into the will reading with her head held high, expecting to at least receive Harlan’s majestic home—a rickety, old mansion of antiquated decadence, like something straight out of a Clue board with the hidden entrances to prove it. Then there’s son Walt (Michael Shannon, subtly menacing as always), who runs his father’s publishing company, and Joni (Toni Colette, big Valley Girl energy), a Paltrow-esque Instagram influencer with the most piercing, judgmental gaze. Everyone in this stratospheric cast is evidently having a lot of fun playing the dastardly rich, no one more so than Chris Evans who rids himself of the moral shackles of the superhero suit as Ransom, the bad egg of the family who didn’t show up to the funeral, but is early for the will reading.
At the heart is Marta (Ana de Armas, breaking out in sublime form here), Harlan’s caregiver and confidante who knows the deceased the most, and has a weakness in her inability to tell a lie without throwing up (Hustlers is shaking). She’s truth serum personified, and it makes her the perfect ally in the investigation. I couldn’t stop thinking about this little-known film, Exposed, that de Armas appears in. She was personally recommended for the role by Keanu Reeves, who must’ve recognized something in her that no one else did, but her starring role was eventually trimmed down to make room for Reeves. The result is brief evidence of her overwhelming warmth and charisma. But up until now, no one has really understood how to properly use de Armas for anything other than objectification—all frantic eyes and a bundle of nerves. More than the exhilarating twists and the narrative threads tied up with a neat bow, seeing de Armas finally free to carry a film with the ease and skill she has always possessed is Knives Out’s defining accomplishment.
It’s a given that any murder mystery will have its secrets, but the ingenuity of Knives Out is that it tricks you into believing you’ve got the clues figured out. There is a mystery stacked on top of another mystery that you don’t even realize exists until it rears its head at the moment you thought the whole thing was over. Despite its satisfying conclusion, Knives Out revels in its unpredictable journey far more than the destination.
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