Rian Johnson’s whodunit is an entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable entry into a genre riddled with trope traps.
Johnson approaches a murder mystery from a fresh angle. Without revealing too much – because finding out the twists and turns in this movie are a real treat – “Knives Out” is up front about how famous author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) met his demise. We find out in the first third of the movie, which makes the way it all plays out that much more surprising.
The Thrombey family is a group of mooching siblings fighting for their father’s fortune. Each of them claims to be self-made millionaires when their successes are firmly tied to the money Harlan has made from writing novels.
After a family party, Harlan turns up dead, throat slashed. It appears to be a suicide, but as we soon find out, there are far more nefarious intentions surrounding his untimely death. Everyone in the family seems to have a reason to want him dead.
Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is brought in to investigate along with the local police. Blanc is an instantly memorable detective much like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. His southern accent and peculiar way of interacting with people is endearing and unforgettable.
Caught in the middle of everything is Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). She befriends Harlan, but the rest of the family is suspicious of her. They’re entirely clueless and, in a comment on today’s immigration commentary, this rich socialite family has no idea where Marta comes from. Throughout the movie they name just about every Latin country they can think of. Each person thinks she’s from a different place, but they don’t actually care about finding out the truth. This person that’s been around them forever is largely unimportant to them.
The irony is that Marta knew Harlan better and more intimately than most of his family. It’s hard not to watch this and wonder exactly how money influences familial relationships, especially in wealthy households. When children of rich parents are dependent on parental income and cash handouts how do they treat each other? Everything anyone does in this family is all about self-preservation. The machinations they concoct against each other are quite something.
Johnson has written and directed a wholly original murder mystery film. He’s created a handful of wonderfully corrupt characters. The script is a dizzying array of unpredictable twists and turns that rival any great mystery.
The real genius is the way that Johnson has constructed the events surrounding Harlan’s death. He draws on the nostalgic memories of past murder mysteries but doesn’t go so far as to fall into the clichés that plague it.
“Knives Out” embraces the quirky fun of murder mysteries all while blazing a new path for the genre. It’s entertaining, hilarious, and politically shrewd. A wonderful time out at the movies.