By Marc S. Sanders
Rian Johnson’s new film Knives Out is an attempt to reinvent the Agatha Christie blueprint of The Who Done It? Murder Mystery. It primarily succeeds even if it is a little cookie cutter in its screenplay.
Famed best selling mystery writer Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer) is discovered by his maid in his reading room to have slit his throat. All evidence points to suicide. Police follow through with simple procedural questioning of his next of kin, and yet a private detective (Daniel Craig) with an outstanding puzzle solving reputation is hired with a delivered envelope of cash from an unknown source. If it’s suicide, then why a detective, and who had reason to hire him?
Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc (great name) adopts a hilarious Kentucky southern drawl to rattle the cages of possible suspects, assuming that perhaps this wasn’t suicide. Could it have been…MURDER?
The suspects consist of family members and each is well exaggerated in their physical descriptions. Johnson wrote these connivers with possible motives to set them apart from one another-first by casting well known actors and then giving most of them a garish appearance or unusual trait. Jamie Lee Curtis as Linda with a short white as snow haircut and black circled glasses looks like no one else I can recall. Michael Shannon as Walt with a cane and exaggerated limp, not too bright but also quite discomforting. Don Johnson as Richard only with a goatee, Toni Collette as Joni putting on a bug eyed expression with ditzy delivery. Chris Evans as Ransom, with clean shaven good looks and a toothy smile in preppy, yet snobbish looking sweaters. Finally, Ana de Armas as Marta, Harlan’s nurse, who seems to be the only one devastated by what has transpired, and somehow inadvertently ends up being more involved than she ever expected. She can’t lie. If she does, she can’t help but vomit. A disadvantage perhaps but maybe a convenient advantage at times as well.
Early on, interviews are shown and it appears everyone has reason to maintain a grudge against Harlan. So if Harlan was in fact murdered, well then it’s fair to presume one of these people might have reason to commit the crime. A will is eventually read and then even more twists present themselves. Someone definitely wanted Harlan out.
Rian Johnson spells it out easily for the viewer. Each suspect has his/her own place in the film to toy around with. While I didn’t find it too challenging to predict a likely suspect that has orchestrated what’s occurred, it was more fun for me to watch how it was all pieced together. I kept asking myself what’s so important about the dogs or the baseball or the silent “Great Nana” (K Callan) who sits around the house but surely must have something to contribute.
Agatha Christie or Dashiell Hammet still hold as the much more clever writers. Still, Daniel Craig is having a blast in his role, conceived by Johnson. I’d like to see another mystery with this character. He’s funny at appearing unconcerned with new developments that could be occurring while he’s really just waiting for the inevitable fact that reveals the absolute truth.
Following leaving the scene of an arson a potential suspect makes an unexpected stop. Craig as Detective Blanc opts to wait in the car and put his ear buds on to sing show tunes. Who would do that? Yet, that’s what’s hilariously fun about this picture. A man has died but the shallowness of his surviving family and the disconnect of the detective are the entertainment factor.
Rian Johnson knows how to keep Knives Out amusingly interesting with a curiosity that does not stop.