Story by: Zachary Whitley
As with every great murder mystery or whodunnit, just as you think you know how it will end, you end up surprised. Directed by Rian Johnson, “Knives Out” is a classic who-killed-who; heavily inspired by Agatha Christie novels, this movie is brimming with extremely clever writing with the added touch of relevancy to 2019.
“Knives Out” follows the investigation of the death of Harlan Thrombey, a wealthy, esteemed crime novelist with a publishing empire, and the patriarch of his family. In a turn of events, the murder mystery mogul finds himself amidst a murder-mystery, this time starring as the victim. Quickly, you’re introduced to Harlan’s large family, his kindred staff and the slow-talking sleuth with a rich Southern accent, Beniot Blanc.
The cast is fantastic and largely star-studded. Daniel Craig delivers a noteworthy performance with such a striking accent as Blanc you’d think it was natural. Harlan Thrombey is portrayed by Christopher Plummer — it’s a real shame that we don’t get to see more of him, as the former “Sound of Music” star provides such a warmth to the scenes he is in.
In comparison to the other actors, the breakout star is Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera, who is the most sympathetic and likeable character in the whole film.
With a movie that’s centered within the walls of primarily one location, characters are vitally important and in this movie, they especially shine. Seeing some of my favorite actors play characters that are almost exact opposites of their usual career roles is something I never thought I would love so much. With Craig as an over-the-top, bumbling, auspicious private investigator and Chris Evans as the spoiled, dog-hating grandchild, they both absolutely nail their roles.
While this movie is still by all means a murder mystery, at times it bridges genres, inching closer to character pieces, especially with how fleshed-out the characters are and how well they interact with each other.
The writing for this movie is bolstered by fantastic humor that is spot-on. During the scene of the will reading, I liked how Blanc described it as “a tax return read by community theatre.”
One particular thing I admire about this movie is how relevant it is society today, poking fun at issues that are currently affecting our country, such as neo-nazism and racism. On that same token, the humor performs the delicate task of balancing out the tension while also maintaining it.
Because tension is the driving force in movies of this genre, it’s important that it’s ever-present. I can definitively say there’s never a moment in the film where you don’t feel that tension building, despite it also being a comedy.
Most of the film takes place in Harlan’s large, maze-like manor. Creaking stairs, sharp corners and false walls are just a few of the tricks hiding inside of the mansion. From wall to wall, each room of the manor is outfitted with secrets taken from the successful crime books Harlan wrote and you learn more and more as the film progresses, adding to the “Clue”-like atmosphere.
As audiences are taken down this path, you start piecing the crime together, sifting through clues alongside the detectives. With Blanc’s arrival, this journey begins. Hired as a private investigator, he baits and presses witness thoroughly and has a sneaking suspicion that foul play was involved, despite police investigators ruling Thrombey’s death a suicide.
Constantly, the film delivers a barrage of detail, intricately weaving each of the characters into their scenes and through each room of the house, like pieces in a board game. As each character is profiled, the audience sits with the investigators, gathering motives, information, and noting suspects.
Slowly but surely, the mystery begins to unfold. Just as you begin to build an idea of the narrative in your head, the film catches you off guard with details you never considered.
Interestingly enough, the film has a unique take on the idea of a whodunnit with the amount of information it gives you very early on. In a traditional whodunnit, you go in trying to figure out who did the deed — this movie starts off by giving you information — all of it leaving you just shy of anything concrete to keep you second-guessing throughout the entire movie.
Of course, since the details are what make whodunnits work, I won’t spoil any of the film. The magic of this film is finding out the secrets for yourself, and having that ruined for you takes that experience away. As always, upon multiple watches it’s much easier to spot the subtle hints and the groundwork that is lain towards the finale.
At the end of the movie, my only regret is that I’m left asking for more and that the scenes that take place outside pale in comparison to the almost claustrophobic aura that is maintained inside the house.
With a large amount of great movies released in 2019, I’m proud to say that
“Knives Out” joins them.
Photos Courtesy of LIONSGATE.