Knives Out Movie Review: A wickedly delightful whodunit
The writing deserves a lot of credit for getting the balance just right between the suspense and the comedy
A rich crime novelist (the ever-dependable Christopher Plummer as Harlan Thrombey) is found with his throat slit the day after his 85th birthday, which was attended by his entire family, with all signs pointing to a suicide. A famous private detective (Daniel Craig) is hired anonymously to investigate. The police are not convinced there is anything to uncover but the private eye suspects there has been foul play. And so, everyone who was at the party is called in to provide their account of what happened. The stage is thus set for Rian Johnson's excellent whodunit, Knives Out, that is a tribute to the grand dame of crime fiction herself, Agatha Christie.
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette
Knives Out (also written by Johnson), which includes references to various other cinematic and literary works in the genre, also has a few prominent allusions to Sherlock Holmes. But as soon as Daniel Craig's private detective — with the fancy French name of Benoit Blanc — opens his mouth and that ridiculously exaggerated Southern accent comes tumbling out, we know he's going to be nothing like Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes. Chris Evans' Ransom, the wayward grandson of the dead man, tartly asks if this is 'CSI: KFC'. Craig has an awful lot of fun playing Blanc and shows he really has a flair for comedy. Ditto for Evans and, in fact, every member of this delectable ensemble.
The performances are all pitched just right — just shy of being complete caricatures. Everyone has something they are hiding, something they want, and a possible motive for murder, naturally. The way the film flashes back to show us what truly happened and then has the character give their own modified version of it as testimony to the detectives is quite a clever device. It keeps us guessing in true whodunit fashion. However, midway through the film seemingly changes from a whodunit to a will-they-get-away-with-it only to come back around again. And through it all, there's a fine line of humour that is nothing short of delightful. Even the most straight-faced character gets a quirky trait like a propensity to throw up when telling a lie — an amusing spin on the Pinocchio tale used to great effect.
The writing deserves a lot of credit for getting the balance just right between the suspense and the comedy. Johnson's script is clever both in how it uses and subverts age-old elements of the genre and for the generous infusion of humour. The humour takes various forms, there's everything from physical comedy to situational comedy, and everything hits the mark without exception (I dare you to keep a straight face during Craig's donut monologue). Johnson never goes overboard with it. He knows how to use a gag without running it to the ground.
Knives Out also acts as a commentary on today's America and the world at large. It's no accident that Martha (Ana de Armas), Thrombey's Uruguayan nurse with an undocumented immigrant mother, is the most sympathetic character; while the rich, white family members range the spectrum from neo-liberal to alt-right — yet all rivalling each other in selfishness. The final shot emphasises this; in a very unsubtle way, yes, but it fits the tone of the film and genre very well.
But more than anything, Knives Out is just plain good fun. It's the sort of film that reminds us of the pure joy of movie-watching. In a word, it's delightful.