Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer
Rated PG-13 | Minutes: 130
Release Date: November 27, 2019
Rian Johnson‘s Knives Out is a deliciously twisted whodunit murder mystery in the same vein of an Agatha Christie novel, but with a modern touch. Though it does rely on many of those Christie tropes of a detective warning the audience about foul play, marking everyone as a suspect, and deliberately setting up all of the clues in plain sight. And true to form, though the film holds the audience’s attention by giving them a well-crafted intrigue that is set up by Johnson, the political subtext allows it to be much more than just a simple murder mystery. And it is able to stay constantly entertaining as it is full of unlikeable and very suspect characters, who are wonderfully played by an all-star cast, that not only keeps things funny, but will also have us guessing until the very end. My full review below.
When legendary crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead the morning after his 85th birthday party, a local detective (Lakeith Stanfield) and a state trooper (Noah Segan) rule it a suicide. However, the brilliant private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) suspects that there is foul play and that every family member who attended the party could be the killer.
There are Harlan’s children: Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), Harlan’s eldest daughter, who has made a name for herself by building her own business from the ground up in order to get out of her father’s shadow, and Walter “Walt” Thrombey (Michael Shannon), Harlan’s youngest son, the CEO of his dad’s publishing company who has dreams of turning his dad’s published works into films. Then there are the in-laws: Joni Thrombey (Toni Colette), Harlan’s daughter-in-law, who is a lifestyle guru who was about to be financially cut off after Harlan discovered that she had been double-dipping in order to pay for her way of life and her daughter’s tuition, and Richard Drysdale-Thrombey (Don Johnson), Harlan’s son-in-law and Linda’s husband, who helps run his wife’s company and is having a secret affair that only Harlan knows about. Then there are the three grandkids: Megan “Meg” Thrombey (Katherine Langford), Harlan’s granddaughter and Joni’s daughter, a liberal arts student and social activist, who is about to be cut off because of her mother’s greed; Jacob Thrombey (Jaden Martell), Harlan’s grandson, Walt and Donna’s son, who is nothing more than just an internet troll; and Ransom Drysdale-Thrombey (Chris Evans), Harlan’s grandson, Linda and Richard’s son, who is described as a spoiled playboy who would rather have nothing to do with the family. Finally, there’s the kind-hearted Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), who has been Harlan’s caretaker for such a long time that she is practically family.
Though everyone is a suspect, the case is inching towards being closed with no arrests. But there are plenty of reasons for us to stick around to see who the actual killer is because Johnson will give out all of the clues to the audience while also distracting us with double bluffs and misdirection. There is just so much to untangle, that even if you think you’ve solved it, there is a lot more to this case than meets the eye.
Part of that is because Johnson has created something that is more than a murder mystery; he gives us a vintage whodunit that feels contemporary because of the classism and political subtext. The rich and spoiled Thrombeys are caricatures of the 1% who talk about the wealthy class, political topics, and are completely out of touch with anything outside of their wealthy bubble. They are merely greedy selfish characters who are far more concerned about their own wealth than others who are not as financially well-off. Which makes their promises to take care of Marta and her family laughable because it’s so insincere. Not only that, they argue political topics like immigration policy. Oftentimes, Marta is the target of their ignorance as none of them can get her ethnicity right nor do they even bother to treat her with an ounce of humanity, with the exception of Meg.
Meanwhile, Blanc is watching the family tear itself apart from afar, while also searching for clues that are laid all over the Victorian house where Harlan used to lives. This house’s vintage look makes it one of a kind and is such a rare find that it can only be described as being nearly identical to that of a Clue game board. In fact, Stanfield makes a point that “The guy practically lives on a Clue board.” This is in contrast to Marta’s lifestyle, which is living in an apartment where the wifi barely works, and her mother watches a Spanish-dubbed version of Murder, She Wrote.
As the family starts to unravel at the seams, the brilliant detective Benoit Blanc searches for all of the clues that no one is looking for. He sees things that no one else sees and builds a connection with those who would be ignored by others. His methods are very unconventional, and his internet celebrity status leads many to believe that he is nothing more than second-rate PI who is more famous for his hammy theatrics than his competence for the job. But he proves that his brilliance supersedes the internet celebrity reputation by getting closer and closer to the truth at a pace faster than the local police.
De Armas should also get some well-deserved recognition for acting as our guide to untangled this twisted murder mystery. As the film progresses and the investigation nears its end, she is the only character who remains a constant. Her devotion to Harlan is unshakeable, and she clearly cares for him as if he were her father. In fact, their relationship is the only one that resembles a genuine familial love, as opposed to the rest of the Thrombey who are motivated by greed.
The dialogue and pacing are razor-sharp, even if the film has to divide a lot of it amongst the large ensemble of characters. Because everyone in the film gets their moment to shine, no matter how little they have to work with. But really, this film belongs to Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas. The two take the audience through this investigation in a step-by-step process. Each one of them trying to figure out how the killer could have committed such an elaborate murder. It’s also aesthetically pleasing as the production design and set pieces are rich in detail and absolutely fascinating to look at. There’s no doubt that the Thrombey’s Victorian home lives up to its Clue board prestige. But most of all, Knives Out surprises us all with its ability to go far beyond a murder mystery that is in the vein of an Agatha Christie novel, it’s also a humorous piece of work that is full of classism and political subtext. If anything, Johnson is a master storyteller who knows how to draw the audience into the world by using characters, plot, and sets to its fullest potential. Honestly, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is quite simply the most fun you will have in a theater.