It may not be very Christian to say so, but murder mysteries are fun. The best are the ones where the story isn’t too complicated so that you can follow along without getting lost but they aren’t too simple either. We all want to figure out who “done it” but not too soon, right? Usually the best stories have an element or two that are so outrageous, the filmmakers might as well make it a comedy too. Sometimes the comedy can be too broad or slapsticky for some people’s tastes such as 1976’s Murder by Death or 1985’s board game murder movie, Clue (both of which still have loyal fans after all these years) while others like 2017’s remake of Murder on the Orient Express are well-made, but slow in it’s pacing. That’s why Knives Out just might make everyone happy.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson and featuring a fantastic cast, Knives Out is witty, sarcastic and despite what seems like a huge giveaway while still in the first third of the movie, will keep you guessing until the very end. It is a modern tale but most of the story takes place within an old mansion with hidden rooms and secret doorways giving the film a classic look and feel.
The film opens with Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) questioning members of the Thrombey family after the patriarch of the clan, Harlan Thrombey is found dead in his home right after his 85th birthday celebration. Harlan was a successful murder mystery writer whose mansion features many of the same weapons used in his famous novels.
Although only seen through flashbacks, Christopher Plummer plays a younger man in the film (the actor is actually 89 years old) who relishes every moment he appears on screen. Though it appears that Harlan had committed suicide, his family are called upon for questioning. This includes Harlan’s daughter, Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis) a real estate mogul and her husband Richard (Don Johnson); Harlan’s son Walt (Michael Shannon) who is the CEO of his publishing company; and daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) who is a “lifestyle guru.” Her husband passed away some years earlier, but she is still considered part of the family.
The other people who were also in attendance at the birthday party include spoiled playboy grandson Ransom (Chris Evans in role that is completely opposite of Captain America); granddaughter Meg (Katherine Langford) who is attending college on Harlan’s dime; grandson Jacob (Jaeden Martell) who can’t divert his attention away from his cell phone; uptight daughter-in-law Donna (Riki Lindhome); Harlan’s mother Greatnana Wanetta (K Callan) whom nobody seems to know how old she is; Harlan’s young nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas) who Harlan adored; and Fran (Edi Patterson) the housekeeper who eventually found Harlan’s body the next day. As with all good mysteries, everyone is considered a suspect as they all had a motive.
One of the last characters in the film to be introduced is Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) who has a mystery of his own to solve – finding out who hired him to investigate this suicide and/or murder and why.
All of these people appear to get along well with each other (with the exception of Ransom who is the black sheep of the family). None of them are very broken up about Harlan’s death and the façade of being a “close family” comes down once the reading of will is read. Nobody was expecting this outcome.
The less you know about this movie ahead of time, the better you will like it, so I will stop here with the details. While some characters get less screen time that others, everyone here is a gem and a pleasure to watch. Curtis’ portrayal as the uptight and sarcastic Linda and Johnson as the ignorant Richard are especially fun to watch.
The script for Knives Out is wickedly sharp with a dialogue to match (including a lot of foul language which isn’t necessary and doesn’t add anything to the film). However, for a film about murder, there is very little violence. Craig’s depiction of Dectective Blanc isn’t too far off from TV’s old Columbo character only more debonair. And just like Columbo, he’s smarter than he looks. I won’t be a bit surprised if Lionsgate turns this movie into a new franchise featuring Craig investigating various other murders. And if so, I’ll be there too.
Main photo: Lionsgate
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.