Reflecting back on 2019's year in movies, there have been a number of really fun films that made going to the cinema an exciting experience. From Crawl to Ready or Not, we've been blessed by some really exhilarating non-blockbuster flicks over the past 11 months, but now the movie gods have parted the skies and imparted Knives Out, an incredibly clever whodunit that will keep you guessing in unexpected ways.
The film revolves around the Thrombey's, an affluent family who suffers the loss of their patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who commits suicide the night of his 85th birthday. Harlan is a beloved and successful crime novelist, which is foreshadowing of the aftermath of his death, as the police bring in famed private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to investigate the possibility that "foul play" may have been involved in Harlan's death.
The rest of the Thromby family cast consists of Jamie Lee Curtis (Harlan's daughter Linda Drysdale), Michael Shannon (Harlan's son Walt), Don Johnson (Linda's husband Richard), Toni Collette, (Harlan's daughter-in-law Joni, who was married to Harlan's deceased son), Chris Evans (Linda's son), Katherine Langford (Joni's daughter), and Jaeden Martell (Walt's son).
Rounding out the main cast are Ana de Armas (Marta Cabrera, Harlan's nurse), as well as Lakeith Stanfield (Detective Lieutenant Elliot) and Noah Segan (Trooper Wagner). Segan especially brings a refreshingly sunny disposition to the film, helping to balance the snide and cynical attitudes displayed by many of the other characters. His is easily one of the most likable roles in the entire film.
It would be criminal to not also mention the brilliantly hilarious Edi Patterson, who plays Harlan's housekeeper Fran. Patterson may be most familiar to audiences as Judy Gemstone from HBO's The Righteous Gemstones. While her screen time is far less than that of the rest of the cast, Patterson does more with those minutes than many actors could do with three-times the visibility.
With such a robust cast of Hollywood heavy-hitters, it's certainly tough to narrow down the stand-outs to just a few, but it should be noted that both de Armas and Evans are quite fantastic in their respective roles, and even have very dynamic chemistry together. Evans comes across, in some ways, like a young Christian Slater. A cocky smart-alec with quips for days and the smirk to back it all up.
Frankly, though, the film truly comes together around Craig's Benoit Blanc, a southern gentleman who is equal parts Hercule Poirot, and Mark Twain. Even the accent Craig gives to Blanc is pure southern drawl, dripping with both courteousness and condescension, usually depending on who he's speaking to. Hopefully, Johnson has plans to bring Blanc back for more sleuthing, because it would be a real shame if the world was deprived of more mysteries being solved by Craig's Kentucky-fried private eye.
Knives Out is written, directed, and co-produced by Rian Johnson, who also directed Star Wars: The Last Jedi, one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved Star Wars films to date. It is interesting that Knives Out would become Johnson's masterpiece, as his directorial debut was the 2005 mystery-thriller Brick, which he also wrote. Brick is a neo-noir story about a high school student (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who sets out to solve his girlfriend's murder. The film is widely considered to be a cult-classic, and, while it's not paramount to understanding Knives Out, it is at least interesting to consider that Knives Out seems to a spiritual relative. If Brick is a brooding teen on the honor roll, then Knives Out is its witty, sophisticated uncle who graduated from Harvard Law School.
As the final, and quite exquisite, final scene rolls, you are left with a grin of amazement at the journey you've just been taken on with Blanc, Marta, and the Thrombys. Knives Out takes every whodunit trope, indulges in them, then throws them all away and creates its own mystery where once there was not one. Moviegoers will also be pleased to know that the film accomplishes this without treating audiences as if they are too dense to follow along. You'll also realize that you've spent a good portion of the film laughing hysterically, as Knives Out is littered with so many jokes that you will almost certainly miss several of them.
There is also a very astute and unexpected commentary on class inequality in Knives Out, but we'll leave that observation as something for you to ponder while you watch or think back on the film, since elaborating too much could lead down a spoilery path.
From its star-studded cast, to its compelling puzzle of murder and its shrewd sense of humor, Knives Out uses foul play to its advantage to deliver one of the best movies you will have seen all year.