Knives Out (Spoiler-Lite)

I went into Knives Out with a lot of suspicion, entirely because of the director.  Rian Johnson has done two movies that I’ve seen before, both of which impressed me a lot with their emotional and visual qualities, but which disappointed me greatly because of their lack of story cohesion:  Star Wars Episode VIII:  The Last Jedi, and LooperSo there I was, watching his most recent effort, Knives Out, a whodunnit style murder mystery, where story cohesion is really the name of the game.

Knives Out b

Gratefully, thankfully, I can now say I’ve seen a Rian Johnson movie I really like!

The story is about a gathering of family members at the house of wealthy Harlan Thrombey for his 85th birthday, an event which is sullied by Thrombey’s apparent suicide.  An Agatha Christie-esque detective, Benoit Blanc, is anonymously hired to investigate whether foul play is involved, and the story highlights his efforts to wade through the miasma of dysfunctional relationships that characterize the Thrombey family.

The Thrombey clan is played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Don Johnson and others, who all have their motives for doing away with the elderly patriarch.  The movie takes us through all their interactions and efforts to avoid suspicion with a stylish wit, but still with enough naturalism to believe them as characters.  And while each of them shines, the real star of the movie is actually Ana de Armas as Marta, Harlan’s nurse and caretaker.  She ends up being taken in by Blanc as his main source of information about what was really going on in the household.

Knives Out e

The movie layers in some interesting (but not overblown) commentary about American race relations–the Thrombeys love Marta and see her as part of their family, but none of them are actually clear on what South American country she is from (although they are all convinced they know).  Marta’s family is actually in America illegally, and she is worried that too much attention from the police will create other problems for her.

The other star of the movie is of course Daniel Craig who shines as Benoit Blanc, a true oddball of a personality who is quite possibly brilliant–you have to watch the movie to find out for sure.  Craig is drawing upon something very different than his James Bond persona, and he makes Blanc a lot of fun to watch.

Knives Out a

But even with good characters and interesting visual style and layered social commentary, Knives Out ultimately succeeds because it presents a legitimate, well-constructed fair-play murder mystery.  It’s doing something a bit different with its story construction than the “typical” English mysteries we all like to watch, but it’s not out to “subvert the genre” or “leave the audience hanging” in any significant way.  There is a solution to the mystery, and it’s fascinating–the movie tells you what you need to know to solve it, but makes it hard enough that it’s unlikely that you actually will. There are moments that come where you wonder if the movie has tipped all its hand unexpectedly early, and that now we’re just left with a sort of cat-and-mouse hunt as the guilty party tries to avoid capture, but the movie has more surprises in store, and it all wraps up into an extremely satisfying experience at the end.

For that and all the reasons mentioned, I recommend the movie a lot, and am excited about the sequel (featuring a new mystery) that I’ve heard they are working on.

Incidentally, in 1981, Edward Packard published a Choose Your Own Adventure book (#9 in the series) called Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?, which was also about a mysterious death in a big house.  It’s hard to imagine that’s a coincidence.

Knives Out d



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s