Knives Out is an outlier in the murder mystery and the “whodunit” genre of films. Largely, murder mysteries follow a certain set of rules and brick by brick builds the case with its merit. Rian Johnson’s effort seems to be a mélange of the works of Agatha Christie and Murder, She Wrote woven for the digital age!
Rian has clearly disrupted the traditional storytelling here. By incorporating stalwart actors and setting up an ensemble of artists from varied skills, he has built a unique family portrait of sorts. I mean, think of it , Michael Shannon is a no good son/ inheritor begging for more attention from his father. A Jamie Lee Curtis, who thinks she is all ‘self made’. Then the over dependent daughter in law Toni Collette who too claims that she is ‘self made’ and runs a fledgling lifestyle business. Then there is Chris Evans who too wants a piece of the action.
And the person who ‘seed funds’ all these people and their egos is the best selling crime author Harlan Thrombey played by Christopher Plummer. He is also the patriarch and the father of this family.
Its this unique family with its travails and tribulations which is at the center of this film.
WHAT IS “KNIVES OUT” ABOUT?
“Knives Out” is a film directed by Rian Johnson (Breaking Bad, Star Wars) based on a screenplay by Johnson himself. The film talks of a weekend gone wrong where Harlan Thrombey, the patriarch of the clan and the world’s most famous and best selling crime novelist is murdered at his home on the night of his 85th birthday celebrations. As the evening becomes complex and the family which has been hanging on to Harlan’s created empire start warring with each other. The famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is hired with the state police department to hunt for the murderer. And the keys of the mystery deepens as a lot of fingers get pointed to Marta Cabrera ( the Brazillian nurse of Harlan) in the process.
WHAT IS SO REFRESHINGLY DIFFERENT ABOUT “KNIVES OUT” ?
KNIVES OUT treats its audience as an intelligent lot. The plot keeps unfolding and the mystery gets solved with the audience knowing in advance about the mindset of all characters. It’s almost that the killer is already identified by the audience long before anybody else in the film gets to know about it. In the initial interrogation scenes with Blanc, Rian Johnson uses a clever technique where each character recollects the events of the fateful night. But what they recollect (in flashback in the movie) and what they narrate to the police is completely different. Its this multi layered introduction scene of each character which steals the show and the viewers get intimate with the protagonist and his supporting characters much faster than most films.
In older films such as “Murder On The Orient Express” and “Poirot” films, the central characters were products of the times when they were written. Here the Director/Writer creates a world of people who are from the Instagram/Facebook generation. The creation of Toni Colette’s social butterfly/inheritor/socialite character is a case in point. Marta has a unique allergic reaction issue, she pukes every time she lies. This can be a unique tool in whodunit with a few suspects in one house. This is a highly innovative implant in the story.
The film introduces us to a dysfunctional and yet functional American family business. The screen presence of Christopher Plummer as Harlan is quite compelling as the “provider” and “punisher” in chief of the Thrombey family.
However, the highlight of the film is the portrayal of Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc. He is more like a Hercule Poirot meets Jessica Fletcher (of Murder, She Wrote) in the modern world. But he also brings the charm of being James Bond too. Blanc even makes a reference to Sherlock Holmes when he calls Marta his “Mr Watson” in the film. The opening scene where he is introduced, he just sits in the frame and does nothing. It is these little strategic implants that Johnson does which makes Daniel Craig look like a detective rather than a spy.
Character Development in “Knives Out”
The Thrombey family is clearly together not because of love but for the fortune of Harlan Thrombey. This has been clearly shown even in the movie’s promotions. But each character has its own arc.
Marta who is an immigrant and is stuck in this house for survival has a mind of her own. Her persona is seemingly genuine in front of the self gloating family of Harlan.
I particularly enjoyed watching the character of Meg who is Joni’s daughter and studying at a prestigious fine arts college. In a scene where she breaks down, she murmurs “My Mom is broke and she can’t afford my college tuition for the next semester.” This of course is Joni’s real self who likes to fashion herself as a lifestyle guru and “influencer”.
The best way to look at this film from the perspective of character evolution is to view the characters after Harlan’s will is read in front of the family. That is the correct “Knives Out” moment of sorts.
Performances in “Knives Out”
With a cast of many stellar actors, the acting has to be superlative. I would pick Daniel Craig, Michael Shannon and Ana De Armas (Marta) as standouts. Christopher Plummer at 89 shows no signs of slowing down. Chris Evans is wasted here for no reason.
I think “Knives Out” is a superior whodunnit with a twist. It scores because it builds on the merits of its predecessors and the innovative new angles provided by Rian Johnson. It’s a film which will be a great outing for anyone looking to take a break from the over convoluted “franchise” and “Netflix” type of content.
I will give 8 out of 10 to this film.