“Knives Out” review: Sharp Knives? Sharper Movie!

Brian Russell: Hey Sam! So we both saw Knives Out and I think we both liked it! Rian Johnson’s new whodunit rolicks along, and painted a smile across my face from beginning to end. The star-studded cast and beautiful sets made me feel like I’d entered old Hollywood in the best possible way. Craft at it’s finest, this turned-on-its-head homage to Agatha Christie follows a delicious Daniel Craig as master-sleuth Beniot Blanc, twisting and turning through the hysterically complicated plot. A death has occurred under mysterious circumstances, and we are on the ride in search of motives, alibis, and the truth! 

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has made millions writing best-selling mysteries, and spoiled his family rotten along the way. They all consider themselves self-made success stories, and yet all leech off him like parasites. When Harlan dies Blanc is tasked with investigating the suspicious circumstances of his alleged suicide. He enlists Harlan’s nurse and confidant Marta Cabrera (the luminous Ana de Armas) as his “Watson.” Marta has been closest to Harlan in his final years and knows all the families dirty little secrets, and Blanc needs all the help he can get.

The investigation pushes and pulls us hither and thither, and this gives our quirky ensemble cast many opportunities to shine. Among Johnson’s oh-so-fun accomplishments here is both leaning into type, and casting far against type. Plummer, Don Johnson and Jamie Lee Curtis all feel perfect and lean into exactly what we expect of them. Craig, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon play the polar opposite of their usual type.

Sam Russell: Yes, every performance in this movie is incredible to watch on a moment to moment basis. I was trying to decide who was my favorite and I truly could not choose. I think the movie’s secret weapon is its ability to blend tones. It is both wildly silly and edge-of-your-seat tense all at once. This is true of the performances too. Craig as Blanc, who delivers his meticulously scripted dialogue with impressive grace, is basically Foghorn Leghorn-meets-Columbo. Much of the cast, especially Collette, is similarly absurd. But equally impressive are Ana de Armas as Marta and Lakeith Stanfield as Detective Elliot. These two are both grounding, naturalistic performances. Without them we would be lost in the chaos and unpleasantness of the Thrombey’s. 

Marta is our protagonist, the mild mannered, good-hearted hero at the center of the  mystery. Detective Elliot is the cop in charge of the investigation. It’s a more supporting role, but an important counterbalance to Blanc’s theatrics. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two characters are people of color, outsiders to the Thrombey’s absurdly white, absurdly privileged existence. These two actors do the incredible and invisible work of playing real human beings amid this Clue board of lunatics.

BR: You are so right on all counts. One other performance worthy of note is Noah Segan as Trooper Wagner. As a Johnson regular all the way back to Brick, I have never really noticed him before, but his relatively small role shines here, giving us sublime moments of of comedy as he assists Blanc and Elliot with the investigation into the death of his hero.

SR: Yeah, I think it’s a testament to Johnson’s writing and direction that every single character shines, no matter how small the part.

BR: Regarding the “absurdly white,” in other hands the racial commentary could have been heavy-handed and hollow but here it slithers and slides, both hysterically funny and pointedly real. Each Thrombey literally prefaces the mention of Marta with her South American country of origin. The problem is no one has paid enough attention to actually know where she is from … your Brazillian Nurse, Dad’s nurse from Uraguay, The Peruvian nurse, etc. As Blanc probes and prods, the rich Thrombey’s start to fray at the seems, revealing their true colors and fully baked-in entitlement. Silly turns serious, and serious turns absurd, but without ever feeling preachy or giving up the pure glee experienced by the audience. 

SR: Yeah, I went in expecting a standard mystery thriller, I had no idea it would have so much social commentary. I totally agree that it’s not too heavy handed. It avoids a clean political moral-of-the-story, and opts to skewer class rather than party. The Trump supporting members of the family come across as ignorant assholes, but so does Harlan’s grandaughter Meg (Katherine Langford), a perpetual liberal arts student. At first it seems Meg is Marta’s only sincere ally in the Thrombey family, but as soon as her stake of Harlan’s fortune is threatened she betrays Marta, slyly threatening to have her mother deported. Apparently greed, selfishness, and racism are non-partisan.

BR: So true … assholes exist all around! And this movie never sits still on politics or any topic. The shifiting tones set it up to do things totally wierd and unexpected one after the other. We actually get a comical car chase in the middle of the mayhem as Marta attempts to outrun the police in her 175 horsepower Huyundai. This is not your grandmothers Agatha Christie.

SR: Yes, it’s a pretty mundane car chase by action movie standards, but the slow-going Huyundai is used to raise the stakes. Every scene, and most are basically just people talking to each other, has all the excitement of a setpiece. This movie is impeccably, thoughtfully crafted in all departments, and is a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying experience. 

SR: I give Knives Out 10 donut holes out of 10 donuts.

BR: And I give it 10 knives out of 10 sharp objects. Go see this movie!

 

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