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Review: Knives Out

Emily Shawcross reviews Knives Out, a comedic 'whodunnit' film about the death of a patriarch and his eccentric family.

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Image Credit: Lionsgate UK

8/10
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana De Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis
Running Time: 2hr 10mins
Rating: 12A

In the age of franchises and blockbusters, it would seem that the art of a good ol’ murder
mystery had been shelved somewhere in the Hollywood vaults. Who would’ve thought that
Rian Johnson of Star Wars fame would be the one to dust it off and deliver the most
rapturously entertaining whodunnit of recent years?

The film opens with the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), found with his
throat slit in his attic study the morning after his 85th birthday party. Local law enforcement
rules the case a suicide, but the presence of private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig),
invited into the fray by an anonymous tip, suggests that not everything is as it seems. Blanc
turns his suspicions towards the remaining Thrombey family, a thoroughly wicked cast of
characters, who he believes all have a motive to want to kill the family patriarch.

There is the eldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), a self-made businesswoman (with the
help of a $1 million loan from daddy’s pocket), proud and aloof, believing herself to be the
strongest contender for the Thrombey estate. Then there is the living son Walt (Michael
Shannon), head of the Thrombey publishing company, and Joni (Toni Collette) the widow of
Thrombey’s dead son, a snarky and two-faced social media influencer. The roles are eccentric
and the cast revels in it, no one more so than Chris Evans as Ransom, Linda’s son and the
black sheep of the family. The complete antithesis to the dastardly rich family is Marta (a
stand-out performance from Ana De Armas), Harlan’s caregiver and only real friend in his
viper pit of a family, who shines as the heart of the film.

Full of entertaining quirks from Craig’s hearty southern accent to Marta’s inability to tell a lie
without throwing up, Johnson’s creation is idiosyncratic and riveting. The setting of the
Thrombey estate plays into the drama at an almost comical level, full of secret passageways
and grotesque statues, not to mention the stupendous display of knives in Harlan’s study
that frame each family member as they are being questioned by Blanc and the detectives.
Much of the humour comes from the inner family squabbling, as well as the absurd nature of
the situation itself. “CSI KFC?” Ransom remarks after meeting Blanc for the first time, before
causing an absolute riot of an argument between the family, all the while munching on lotus
biscuits.

The merging of great character actors like Collette, Plummer, and Shannon with high-profile
action stars like Craig and Evans could have presented the risk of certain performances being
overshadowed, but everyone has their moment to shine. Under Johnson’s direction it seems
the cast had a lot of room to breathe and truly make these characters their own. Yet the
crowning achievement of Knives Out is its ability to present the audience with enough clues
to assume they’ve solved the mystery, just to throw in a new mystery on top of that as
everything seems to be resolved. It lures the audience into a false sense of confidence before
twisting the knife a little more. It’s Johnson’s ode to the likes of Agatha Christie while
remaining his own vision. Think An Inspector Calls for the twitter generation (albeit much
less depressing).

The villainous streak that runs through the Thrombey family is a familiar one, seen
particularly through performative liberalism so apparent in the treatment of Marta, who is
seen as “part of the family” when it’s convenient and reduced to being one of “the help” when
it’s not. There are frequent but nuanced references to the current social political climate,
showing self-awareness without becoming self-indulgent. The undercurrent of class tension
between Marta and her family and the Thrombeys is felt throughout and highlights that
money cannot buy empathy or kindness. Here, money breeds arrogance and gives people the
means to belittle those they see as beneath them. The film relates the idea that goodness, not
fame or fortune, is the only asset that matters in the end.

Ridiculous and fun with a lot of heart, Knives Out bears a sense of confidence that feels like a
breath of fresh air. It’s a classic whodunnit through and through with a stellar script and
incredible performances, cementing it as a sure-fire crowd pleaser.

Editor's note: This film was screened at City Screen York

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