Knives Out: a twist of a mystery

Zach Dirksen — Staff Writer

Even if you haven’t read an Agatha Christie novel, you’re probably familiar with its form. Christie was extremely prolific, and, while her books proved consistently entertaining, they sometimes tend to be repetitive. We meet an eclectic cast of characters, each with their own quirks and eccentricities. Then, mysteriously, one of these characters dies, clearly at the hand of another. Next, we meet a clever but equally eccentric investigator who interviews each suspect, examines the clues, dodges each plot twist, and miraculously divines the true culprit. It’s a tried and true formula that never fails to impress, like a dark and deadly magic trick.

In the new film Knives Out, writer-director Rian Johnson turns that form on its head. In the first scene of the movie, we find famed mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey dead, presumably by slitting his own throat. A week later, after the funeral, the police call the members of Harlan’s family back to his house for questioning. There, we meet Linda, Harlan’s daughter, who runs a successful real estate empire with her yuppie husband Richard. We meet Walt, Harlan’s other son, who handles his father’s vast publishing catalog. Next, Joni, Harlan’s vapid Gwyneth Paltrow-esque daugher-in-law. Finally, we meet Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s young caretaker, the daughter of an undocumented South American immigrant.

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While the police conduct their interviews, a mysterious man sits in the background. When asked to identify himself, the man introduces himself as Benoit Blanc, a private investigator of great fame. Apparently, he says, that someone believes that Harlan was murdered, and they’ve hired Blanc to crack the case.  We have our suspects, and we have our detective. Let the caper begin.

To write about Knives Out is to walk a minefield of spoilers, because one careless detail could unravel the whole thing. That’s how dense this movie is, and why I loved it so much. While Christie’s novels have always been entertaining, they’ve never been necessarily suspenseful. We tend to find things as the detective finds them. In Knives Out, however, important plot elements are exposed to us long before Blanc ever encounters them, creating a tone of stress and suspense that compliments the murder-mystery medium in ways that are as unexpected as they are delightful.

James Bond actor Daniel Craig appears to be our protagonist, playing Benoit Blanc with a charming, deep Southern drawl, as if he’s Poirot by way of a tobacco plantation. However, we soon find that the film quickly shifts our point of view to that of Marta, played brilliantly by Ana De Armas. She’s the heart and soul of the movie, and Johnson gives her ample time to shine.

The rest of the cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, and LaKeith Stanfield all bring humor and levity to the film, a minor feat considering the ensemble is made up of primarily dramatic actors. Finally, an honorable mention must be made for Chris Evans, who follows up his Avengers Endgame performance playing the most anti-Captain America character imaginable, the Thrombey’s resident bad boy Ransom.

I realize some people may have some misgivings about Rian Johnson, especially depending upon their view of his last film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Whether you like him or not, I really can’t recommend Knives Out enough. Johnson’s script is funny, dark, well-crafted, and, most of all relevant.

Knives Out, while being a throwback to classic Agatha Christie murder-mysteries, is also a reflection of our current times, and who we see as heroes and villains. It’s an interesting take on class struggle, hypocrisy, and compassion, all rolled up into an original, highly entertaining package. See it with the most people you can. The collective shock, confusion, and satisfaction was one of my favorite movie-going experiences ever.

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