Knives Out is an unusual movie. It’s a murder ‘whodunnit’ in the style of Agatha Christie. Except for Murder on the Orient Express by Kenneth Branagh there are not many of those. The story is told as a comedy, a black comedy at that. Starring a ensemble cast including Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Ana de Armas and Chris Evans the story is set at the rustic country home of crime author Harlan Thrombey (played by Plummer). He has invited his immediate family to celebrate his 85th birthday but ends up dead in an apparent suicide in the night after.
The first half of the story has all the classic themes of a ‘whodunnit’. Private detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) is hired by an unknown party to discover if Harlan was actually murdered. And so the audience is gradually introduced to the dysfunctional Thrombey family. An eclectic collection of people that includes high-strung daughter Linda, mediocre businessman Walter, Joni – wife of deceased son Neill and some of their children.
However, with Knives Out director Rian Johnson actively attempts to subvert expectations. I know for a lot of people disappointed by attempts by other directors to do that it may be a dirty word. But with Knives Out it actually works. After the introduction to the family we quickly learn who did kill Harlan. It was his live in caretaker Marta. She accidentally gave Harlan a fatal dose of morphine. Harlan, who had become attached to Marta then committed suicide by cutting his own throat so as to remove suspicion from her. Throughout the remainder of the movie we watch as Marta tries to cover up the ridiculous clues she left. She is not helped by her pathological inability to lie, as this induces vomiting.
Meanwhile the audience is left with the distinct impression that Benoit Blanc knows exactly what happened. Halfway through the movie a third cast member jumps to the foreground – Ransom – grandson of Harlan played by Chris Evans. Ransom is the black sheep of the family. He acts like a spoiled Playboy but quickly uncovers Marta’s predicament and tries to help her. Things are made worse for Marta when Harlan’s will is read. He has left everything to her and nothing to his family. Unless of course she is convicted of his murder.
Knives Out and twisting it
And so Knives Out continues with its twists and turns. All the time you think you know what is going but you are left with a suspicion there is more. Director Rian Johnson time and again proves correct this suspicions with yet another twist to what happened the night of the murder / suicide. Yet, he does not cheat the audience. Between Benoit Blanc and Marta we slowly uncover the entire story.
To tell you more would spoil the story, I suggest you watch Knives Out at the cinema. The mystery is alone worth watching for, but the acting take front-stage. From amiable Harlan to the neurotic Joni and Linda, each brings something special to the overall performance. It is good to see so many members of the ensemble cast play such divergent roles. In fact, I think Chris Evans portrayal as Ransom is the first time I have seen him other than playing Captain America. I suppose the only none triple A name in this production is Ana de Armas, whose only other role I know is as Joi in Blade Runner 2049. Next year she will star in the last Daniel Craig Bond movie No Time to Die.
Knives Out continues to surprise the viewer right until the end. The classic murder mystery in the style of Agatha Christie is not a very expansive genre, but it has received a worthy addition. Despite the debacle around The Last Jedi I hope to see a lot more of Rian Johnson. I do not know whether he is still attached to make a new Star Wars trilogy, but if he is I am excited for it. Not having to be a director that makes a Star Wars movie after J.J. Abrams might give him the freedom he needs to succeed. Though I hope there will be people around him to dissuade of his bad choices. Knives Out has few of those at least.