The movie “Knives Out” utilises the format of the childhood boardgame, Clue, and a “whodunnit” plotline to skillfully demonstrate that even in a smaller-scale murder, selfish ulterior motives are inevitable and drive conflict. (spoilers ahead)
The film, directed, written and produced by Rian Johnson (who you may recognize from directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi) was released November 27th and has already earned unanimous approval from audience members and movie critics alike. Its box office profits do not say otherwise, as the film had already acquired $44 million two days following its release. In the age of the Internet, Rotten Tomatoes has become an influential source on movie reviews and with “Knives Out” ranking at 96%, surely Johnson and the rest of his star-studded cast believe their hard work has paid off. A 96% is exceptional, especially for a movie of the Mystery genre, as Adventure films tend to rank the highest. No doubt, I believe the film is completely deserving of its praise and was captivated throughout its 130 minute runtime.
To give an appropriate background on the film, “Knives Out” bases around the death of mystery-novel writer, Harlan Thrombey, on his birthday and the questioning of his wealthy family and help, who are all suspects of his murder. The police force and celebrity detective, Benoit Blanc, seek out the details of Mr. Thrombey’s death in order to ascertain whether it was a murder or suicide, and if the latter then who had comitted the crime. While one obvious suspect is introduced early on to have accidentally poisoned Mr. Thrombey and executed an elaborate cover-up story it serves as a starting point for the movie and the case is still nowhere near closed. As each member of the Thrombey family is revealed to be deliberately seeking his fortune, they all become obvious suspects as their greedy ulterior motivates are continuously peeled off throughout the film. A separate plot surrounding his will evolves and ensures a more chaotic dynamic between the characters. This creates an accusation-filed and elaborate mystery for the detectives and other characters to unravel. The movie concludes with several plot twists surrounding who actually was responsible for Harlan’s death and final decisions regarding his estate.
The plot was incredibly well crafted and purposefully intricate. While certain details may not seem important at first introduction, everything eventually matters. This weaves an elaborate story filled with misconceptions and subplots galore. Although the audience is led to believe one character is the accidental killer early on, each of the family members is revealed to have a desire and want for Harlan’s estate and potential reason to have murdered him, making one second-guess the verity of the entire situation. The anticipation leading to the big “Aha!” moment that occurs when Detective Blanc retells the true story from start to finish is unreal. After finding out what actually occurred, the hundreds of small hints along the way become visible and Johnson’s skill is evident. For example, each detail in Mr. Thrombey’s cover up story perfectly aligns with the family’s individual alibis making the mystery incredibly satisfying and as if you are a detective yourself. The movie gave the perfect amount of information for the audience to have some basis for interpreting the situation while being able to form your own conspiracies as you watch. While I felt like a genius at some points, I felt incredibly oblivious at others, which I found enjoyable.
In perfect coherence with a well-thought out plot, the acting was impressive. As I was previously unfamiliar with Ana de Armas, who plays Marta, Harlan’s nurse and friend, and one of the film’s leads, I found that her emotion and facial expressions contribute to the complexity of her character and mystery of the film. As her character has to act oblivious in the interrogations, de Armas does a great job acting as someone who is hiding their thoughts. She remains a relatively calm demeanor and boosts the characters likeability, allowing the audience to feel sympathetic throughout her faults and uplifted with her successes. The dynamic between her and Christopher Plummer, who plays Mr. Thrombey, gives evidence as to why he cherishes Marta so much and makes some decisions later on. In addition, I found Chris Evans’s performance to be notable. As Evans is typically seen wearing a Captain America suit, seeing him play a more villain-like and rebellious character (Harlan’s radical grandson) was definitely out of the ordinary but very impressive. Evans did an excellent job masking many of his character’s emotions and also acting falsely at times, which twisted the story even further, and is a difficult task for an actor. Daniel Craig, who plays the lead detective Benoit Blanc, transformed into the stereotypical, and much-needed, cryptic narrator of the investigation which gave the film a familiar feel. The rest of the cast was particularly strong in diversifying each of their characters, which can be tough in a film with such a large cast.
Lastly, Johnson’s visuals and sound improved an already interesting plot line and set of talented actors. The opening and closing of the movie show eerie shots of odd memorabilia in Harlan’s mansion setting an unsettling and unfinished tone to the story which becomes supported by the odd death and the events that follow. Johnson’s use of flashbacks proved to be especially effective in retelling events that occured and emphasizing new information. The characters were frequently shown close up which allowed for the audience to read their expressions and start forming their own judgements and guesses regarding the Harlan’s death. The dark colors shown on the screen give a thriller edge to the movie and increase the tension in many of the scenes. The set, which mainly takes place in Harlan’s mansion, is an almost identical replica to the house in the boardgame “Clue,” alluding that it is the perfect place for murder. This dark undertone is complete with the music that builds up at certain moments of clarity or provides a creepy tune during many of the shots of the house.
Overall, “Knives Out” is one of my favorite movies I have seen this year and all around an excellent film. Theme of greed is especially resonant when the characters interactions and motives for staying close to Harlan are revealed and during the discussion of his estate. The family members all ruthlessly throw each other under the bus in order to attain good status and potentially Harlan’s will. As today’s political climate is often critiqued to have similar motivations, the movie’s take on the subject provided a small-scale example that reflected what occurs in today’s world. Without providing too much of a spoiler, the theme of pro-immigration becomes especially resonant at the end of the movie. Hand in hand with that, the message that being a kind person with innocent intentions will be rewarded is visible throughout the movie.