Monday, June 01, 2020

Knives Out: In the Tradition of an Agatha Christie Who Done It, But Better!

Movie Review: Knives Out (2019)
Version: Amazon Prime rental

In the mood for a good mystery? In the style of an Agatha Christie who-done-it? With an ensemble of strange characters all of whom are prime suspects but only one surely must of done it? A ring of clueless policemen but one immensely smart privately consulting detective with at least one irritating quirk who can't quite figure out the crime-defining question but is always on the cusp of finding the answer? Oh, and the victim -- the irascible old man everyone has a reason to kill! Well, that's Knives Out in a nutshell!

It features the usual cast of notables. Christopher Plummer is the victim, one famous mystery writer Harlan Thrombey. Did he commit suicide or was he killed by any of a number of family members or family staff in a position and with a reason to slit his throat? There is daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), and ungrateful grandson Ransom (Chris Evans). They've been living off the old man's fortune too long, to his disappointment. Son Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon) ran the old man's publishing house but was never allowed to run with his instincts and always felt held back in his father's shadow. His son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) was a spoiled family muckraker who enjoyed inciting a family squabble. Granddaughter Meg Thrombey (Katherine Langford) was the apple of her grandfather's eye, dutifully sending a six-figure check to cover her college tuition, until he discovered her mother Joni (Toni Collette) was double billing the accountant and stealing from dear old granddad. That leaves housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) who was discovered with a blackmail note and nurse Marta (Ana de Arnas) who was the last person to see Harlan alive. Who could solve this difficult crime? Why, the privately consulting detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) with the irritating Southern gentlemanliness. And so he goes after the clues and that one remaining question he can't quite solve till the very end.

Now, watching a Brit like Craig handle the Southern drawl and charm with such adeptness, after years of watching him play steely-eyed James Bond, was a revelation of his acting skills. He totally took on that role and won the character. He vied with Jamie Lee Curtis, with her verve and sparkle, for steeling the show. It should be noted that Frank Oz of Muppets fame came out of whole cloth to play a human attorney.

The only thing I can compare this film to is Murder on the Orient Express or perhaps Clue, mysteries with large ensemble casts and celebrity roles. It has that look and feel. And so you cannot take it seriously as a mystery, although the conclusion is a surprise. Still, it was a fun story and worth a watch. Jamie Lee Curtis is always fun to watch, Daniel Craig is interesting in this new role, Chris Evans gets to stretch his creative legs in this role, and Toni Collette is delicious in her character. Christopher Plummer commands the screen. Just for their performances, it's worth the watch.

So here's the gist of the story. Harlan Thrombey is a famous mystery writer. His family returns to the "ancestral home" to celebrate his 85th birthday. The next morning his private nurse discovers he has died and investigating police surmise Harlan has committed suicide. But private detective Benoit Blanc, anonymously hired by a mysterious source, attends a follow-up interview of those present that evening, and he has questions. He discovers each of the family members had reason to want Harlan Thrombey dead. Grandson Ransom had left the party early that night but returns late to answer questions and so also becomes one of the suspects. Through flashbacks we learn truths about some of the testimony and about other events that give context to occurrences that night, including an important role nurse Marta played. Even up to the end, all isn't as it seems. Of course! In the last moment, Benoit Blanc discovers the answer to his final question and the culprit is revealed.

As is always so with these ensemble casts, everyone is not just a suspect but every clue is a misdirect. And the job of the viewer is to listen intently without getting snookered. Knives Out is probably one of the better written who-done-its. I think you will agree. Perhaps when it fades to credits, you will find that's the real reveal at the end.

No comments: