Knives Out is the kind of film that they really don’t make anymore. Most murder mysteries like this are subjugated to the Hallmark channel or Lifetime where the material is as lifeless as their victim. Writer and director of Knives Out, Rian Johnson has created a film that hopefully will give a resurgence of good, old fashioned murder mystery films like this. It did not get as much acknowledgement from the Academy as I thought it should have, at Oscar time. Alas, it only was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, which it deserved but it should have been nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. But, Rian Johnson went home empty handed, sadly. He earned one of them, no doubt.
Knives Out features a stellar cast that includes Daniel Craig as a sort of male version of Angela Lansbury from Murder, She Wrote. He has been hired by a secret “admirer” to assist the police in finding the killer of famed murder mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Chistopher Plummer). The Thrombey family is a family of miscreants, malcontents and leeches. All of them have, for the most part, been living off of the fortune of Harlan but on the eve of his death, Harlan cuts the spigot off. This of course, enrages everyone in the family creating any number of possible suspects. Their anger is only amplified when Harlan’s will reveals that he has left his entire fortune to his personal nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas).
As for the plot, I will leave it there. There are so many twists and turns, none of which you will see coming. This is a remarkably intelligent film with an equally smart script that respects the audience and its intelligence. It is also very funny in spots and always has a slight wink and nod to the viewers. The characters that Johnson has created is a gleeful collection of reprobates starting with Walt (Michael Shannon) who wants to start selling the books of his father to Hollywood for films, an idea Harlan thoroughly rejects from the start. Jamie Lee Curtis is Harlan’s eldest daughter, Linda and probably the least diabolical of the bunch. She received a million dollars from Harlan to start her own real estate company that she has worked hard to grow into successful business. Her son, Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans) however, is another sponge that suffers when Harlan cuts him off, as well. Evans is quite hilarious in this role as you never quite know what he is up to.
Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette) is getting money for her daughter, Meg’s schooling. Katherine Langford is excellent as a daughter who works both side of the fence in this whole sorted affair. It was nice to see Don Johnson (yes, THAT Don Johnson from Miami Vice) get some screen time in a major film like this one. He is also excellent as the adulterous and loutish husband of Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis). Ana de Armas, who has really built up a solid resume of good films in the past couple of years, is the film’s heart and soul. Is she a good person who is innocent of the circumstances at the Thrombey household or she is in on the murder, too? What can I say about Daniel Craig? He is terrific as Benoit Blanc, the eccentric and “famed” private eye that is mysteriously hired almost immediately after Harlan’s death. Craig really shows just how much depth he has as an actor.
There is not one wasted character in Knives Out and there are a lot of them to keep track of, too. But Rian Johnson knows exactly what he is doing. He has constructed a very smart, sharply written, witty, clever and rather ingenious film with Knives Out. This was one of 2019’s best films that has now made its way to DVD. It is a long film with a run time of two hours and ten minutes but, I didn’t care. Knives Out is a complete joy to watch and as hard as you might try to figure it out, you won’t be able to. This is one film you can watch multiple times and still pick up on something you might have missed on previous viewings. Not many films, today, can claim that feat.
Knives Out – ****3/4 out of 5
Knives Out – Rated PG-13 for language, some violence and adult situations
Knives Out – Run time is 130 minutes
Knives Out is now out on DVD, On Demand and subscription services.