Knives Out has all the makings of a great mystery story a la Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, with a little bit of Clue thrown in. It’s also just one of the most fun movie-going experiences you’ll have this year.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out takes on the privileges of the American white upper class when the death of esteemed mystery writer Harlan Thornby (Christopher Plummer) brings in Lieutenant Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield), Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan), and private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to solve his murder. Despite the many lies and motives from the rest of the Thorny clan, all clues point to Harlan’s nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), of knowing more than she lets on.
A large, Victorian-looking house is our main setting, completing the gothic aesthetic of mystery thrillers. Johnson expertly uses the set direction of the house to tell its own story, bringing in particular pieces when necessary; a circle array of knives in the living room where most of the interviews take place gives the film an extra quirk while also creating a necessary sense of tension while the mystery unfolds.
Ana de Armas brings a sympathetic, easily likable presence to Marta. With Marta, Knives Out is essentially a two-hour long pro-immigration film, though it would be nice if Marta’s country of origin was explicitly stated, especially since a running joke in the film are the Thornby’s inability to remember where she’s from, name-checking numerous Latin countries but never hitting the right one (should be noted de Armas is Cuban). Still, as the film goes on, the Thornby’s fake wokeness becomes clearer, their interest in themselves and assumption of what their owed shines an ugly light on the supposed “self-made” billionaires in our world today. A clear line is drawn between Marta and the Thornbys, in more ways the one. Perhaps the most important is that Marta is capable of empathy, while the Thornbys, no matter how many times they utter “you’re apart of this family,” are more interested defining what’s fair, but only when it comes to them.The only reasonable Thornby seems to be Harlan himself. Plummer and de Armas have great chemistry, as flashbacks unravel the mystery of the night of Harlan’s murder.
Everyone on screen in Knives Out looks like their having the time of their lives. Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, and Chris Evans bring a whole new definition to dysfunctional family. Some of the best scenes are when they’re all crowded into a room together, competing for who can be the most vile. But Johnson finds moments to humanize each family member, so as not to make them completely one-dimensional.
Along with Armas, Craig is the highlight of the film as Detective Blanc, exemplifying every well-known detective of mystery literature. If any other films involving Detective Blanc comes out of this, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.