The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I decided to do a double feature of Queen and Slim and Knives Out. After the emotional wallop of Queen and Slim, I had ten minutes to shake myself off, use the bathroom, grab a popcorn and soda, and ready myself for a lighter, funnier flick.
When eccentric millionaire/ mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dies from a slit throat, it appears to be an open and shut case of suicide. But private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) has been hired to investigate. As he interviews the various family members (Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Colette, etc.) secrets are unearthed. It seems every person in the family has a reason to want Harlan dead. The only one Benoit can trust is Harlan’s kindly nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who has a visible aversion to lying. But Marta has a secret of her own.
I wanted to see Knives Out, because I liked what Rian Johnson did with The Last Jedi. When I heard that his new movie was a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie novels (my all-time favorite mystery writer) and the 1985 movie Clue (a film I practically memorized in high school), well, count me in. Good reviews and an all-star cast did nothing to diminish my interest in the project.
I have to say, Thanksgiving was the perfect time to see Knives Out. It is the ultimate “family feud” movie, which will make you either relate to the craziness or feel grateful for your own family. The characters were just grounded enough to feel real, and just exaggerated enough to be funny. The actors were clearly having a ball, and that joy translated to their screen. It was fun to see a bunch of rich hypocrites get their comeuppance. Knives Out was a solid film.
It was not exceptional. It was funny, but not hilarious. It was good, but not great. I mean, considering the praise it was getting, I sort of expected more. For me, though, the biggest problem may have been the mystery. Knives Out was advertised as having the feel of an Agatha Christie novel, and that was true. It was very Agatha Christie-like. Too Agatha Christie-like.
See, I’ve read many of Agatha Christie’s novels, enough to pick up on the general patterns. Therefore, I figured out where the story was going. It didn’t surprise me. In fact, I thought it was pretty obvious.
(Warning: I’m now going to brag about how I solved the mystery, so there will be SPOILERS ahead! Read at your own risk.)
The first act shows what appears to be Knives Out’s big twist. Marta, the kind nurse, accidentally mixes up Harlan’s medicines, giving him a fatal dose of morphine. Worse yet, she can’t find the antidote (I don’t remember the technical name of the drug that will save his life). Harlan does not want Marta or her illegal immigrant family to get in trouble, so he decides to kill himself. Before he does, he makes Marta jump through hoops to give her an air-tight alibi.
So that’s it. Mystery solved.
Oh, I knew from the moment that Marta couldn’t find her antidote that someone was setting her up. There was a real murder plot, but Harlan’s elaborate ruse had spoiled it. That was why the great detective, Benoit Blanc, had been called to the case. Benoit Blanc had received a newspaper clipping and a stack of money, but the person who hired him wanted to remain anonymous. Why? Because that person was the murderer. The same person who had set up Marta clearly wanted the blame pinned on her. But he couldn’t tell the police. The solution--hire a detective.
The reason the murderer wanted to frame Marta became clear once Harlan’s last will and testament was read. Everyone from the family was disinherited. Harlan’s house, money, and publishing company all went to Marta. The family, pumping the lawyer for information, mentioned the Slayer clause (or something like that), wherein, if it was proved that someone killed the person or, through medical negligence caused them to die, that person could not inherit the money. Bingo. Set up Marta for medical neglect, and the will is invalid. Every person in the family now had motive to kill Harlan and frame Marta. But who was it? Was it one of them, all of them, or some combination?
One of my prime suspects was Ransom (Chris Evans), Harlan’s grandson, who, despite being played by a prominent actor, was suspiciously absent for the first half of the movie. On the fateful night of Harlan’s death, Ransom left the party early; however, according to Harlan’s ancient mother, he had been back. Ransom was the only one who knew in advance that the family was being disinherited. Moreover, he was, in the words of everyone, an “asshole.” Ransom seemed like an obvious suspect. Too obvious, perhaps?
Then, in a glorious scene in the middle of the movie, as Marta is being swarmed and accused, Ransom swoops in to save her. He takes her to a restaurant, feeds her, interrogates her, finds out the truth, and vows to help Marta keep her secret hidden… in exchange for his share of the inheritance. Ransom is such an endearing combination of protective and manipulative, honest and conniving, vulnerable and helpful, that I was almost positive… he is the murderer. Because swooping in to befriend Marta is the perfect way to twist the screw, pressure her, manipulate her, get her to confess. And if that fails… hey, you still get the money. Win-win.
(End of SPOILERS)
Once I figured out the mystery, I was really just waiting to see whether or not I was right. Though there were twists and turns and dastardly schemes, it was typical fare and it didn’t throw me off. There were a few things I didn’t know, but I figured out 70% of the mystery. I knew the who and the why and most of the how. There wasn’t much left to surprise me.
This didn’t mean there weren’t any joys to be had. I did like Benoit Blanc’s donut speech, which had the whole theatre roaring in laughter. I was infatuated by Chris Evans’s charming asshole Ransom and his cozy white sweater (which is, apparently, a thing). I thought the ending hit every note correctly. The last shot was a perfect bookend to the opening shot. Knives Out was a very competent movie.
You know, having had time to mull it over, I think Knives Out would be fun to own on DVD or have available on streaming. It’s movie that lends itself to repeat viewings, if for no reason than to watch the cast bicker with each other. I spent my time in the theatre trying to figure out the mystery, because that’s what I do--I analyze things. But relieved of the pressure of solving the case, I might be better able to appreciate the movie for what it is: a fun little flick.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.