By: Hawk Ripjaw (A Toast) –
Knives Out opens with the discovery of wealthy patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dead in his study with his throat slashed, the morning after the celebration of his 85th birthday with his entire family. With everyone in his bloodline present at the time of his murder, everyone is a suspect.
Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), renowned detective, is on hand with the police for the investigation of the murder, but he’s been retained by a private party. It’s quickly made clear that Harlan was widely hated by his entire family, and Blanc needs to figure out who had the means to do the deed. His daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband Richard (Don Johnson), his meek caretaker Marta (Ana de Armas), his son Walt (Michael Shannon), daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), and grandson Ransom (Chris Evans) each had contentious interactions with Harlan during or shortly before the party, and reasonably have a motive to kill him.
Then there’s the matter of the will, and who’s going to get the lion’s share of Harlan’s vast estate.
This movie is so much fun, and it knows it.
First and foremost, Knives Out is a spectacularly clever subversion of the whodunit subgenre. This is more about the characters and the mystery than it is about the actual murder, because of how it flips the formula: we find out how the patriarch died towards the end of the first act of the film, and the remainder of the story builds out from there, relying both on a bread crumb trail of clues to set up later revelations, and on the characters’ interaction with each other.
It’s a consistently surprising film, and delivers a steady stream of revelations and twists that were hinted at in plain sight earlier in the film but only make sense in hindsight. It’s one of those films where right before the twist occurs, you recognize the tell and know what’s about to happen. Everything fits together perfectly–it’s like the big reveal of how everything was pulled off at the end of a heist film, except that everything is laid out throughout the narrative and paid off minutes later. Every new account provides a new perspective or potential motive, responding to reenactments of accounts of the party with alternate perspectives from other rooms. No doubt this will benefit heavily from subsequent viewings, both for the strength of the writing as well as the complex production design.
The characters are each wholly unique and so much more than a simple character trait or attribute to define their entire existence and behavior. They do indeed all have an easily defined trait, and many of them share a satirical racial indifference (it’s a running joke that every time a different character mentions Marta’s country of origin, they ignorantly throw out a different location), but they’re all interesting characters with unique dynamics with each other. The title of the movie refers to how cutthroat every member of the family is to each other, how they’ve constantly got their “knives out” in confrontation to conquer the others.
There’s not a single performance here that is anything less than excellent, without two of the standouts being Craig’s absurdly accented Blanc, as well as Ana de Armas in a wonderfully textured performance as Marta. Shannon, Johnson, Curtis, and Collette bounce off of each other perfectly. There hasn’t been a more engaging and believable ensemble cast in recent memory.
Rian Johnson is a brilliant filmmaker with big ideas and a bigger pair of balls to see them through. He loves twisting around genre conventions and has fun doing so. Knives Out is one of the best films of 2019 and the most fun I’ve personally had in a theater in some time. It’s clear everyone involved in it is having a grand time, and the writing is consistently surprising and clever, but it’s also deeply suspenseful when it needs to be without disrupting its tonal cadence. Finally, it’s original. It’s not a sequel, adaptation, or blockbuster. It’s a shot of adrenaline to the mainstream filmmaking industry that is desperately needed.
Knives Out (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Blanc says “donut”
Do a Shot: every time Marta throws up
Take a Drink: for every flashback.
Take a Drink: every time characters start bickering.