A whodunnit, a social satire, a comedy or simply a feel good movie? It is perhaps all of that and more. On the recommendation of my sisters, I had watched this movie when it came out a couple of years ago. I recently re-watched it with my family (including two teenagers) and together we enjoyed this layered drama just as much, or maybe even more, than when I had watched it first.
Set in contemporary US, but with a feel of an early 20th century Agatha Christie mystery, this movie pulls you in from the start.
The wealthy, best-selling, crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummet) has been found dead, the morning after his 85th birthday party, all evidence pointing to a suicide. But is that really so? Private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is not satisfied. His being hired, anonymously, suggests foul play and he will get to the bottom of it.
We are introduced to the entitled and dysfunctional Thrombey family, gathered together for Harlan’s birthday celebration.
In true Agatha Christie style each of them can be a suspect. They all purport to have a special bond with Harlan but in truth are not above cheating him to get a share of his wealth, which they think they righteously deserve. There is the eldest daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), who claims to be a self-made business woman but only became one with the help of her father’s millions. Her husband Richard (Don Johnson), who takes his wife and father-in-law’s wealth as his birth right, is having an affair that Harlan has threatened to expose. Then there is the daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), the widow of Harlan’s older son, who has been siphoning off money from Harlan under the pretext of paying for her daughter’s expensive education. Harlan has informed her that he will be stopping her allowance. Youngest of the three Thrombey siblings is Walt (Michael Shannon). He wants to be in control of Harlan’s publishing company but is at complete odds with Harlan about how it should be run. On the day of his birthday, Harlan who is at the end of his patience, fires Walt. Last but not the least is the family black sheep, Hugh Ransom (Chris Evans), the son of Linda and Richard. He, in fact, is the only one who has no qualms about openly admitting to his quarrels with his grandfather.
Amidst the chaos and bickering of the Thrombey family we are introduced to the timid and warm hearted Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s nurse. Marta has a rare affliction, she cannot lie, as lying makes her vomit. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that Marta was perhaps the only one who really cared for Harlan, and that Harlan treated her as a friend and a confidant. It is also soon revealed that she has a guilty secret and is extremely nervous of the investigation. Timid she might be, but Marta is no push over. She is intelligent and resourceful and does all she could to obfuscate the investigation whenever it gets too close to her, and all without lying!
Through all this we see glimpses of Marta’s treatment by the Thrombey family. When she arrives at their mansion for the police questioning, a week after Harlan’s death, she is effusively greeted by them as “one of the family”. In quick friendly whispers they let her know how they were overruled by others about letting her be present at Harlan’s funeral. She is “the immigrant” from a Latin American country, “Ecuador” “Uruguay” “Brazil”, they say variously, “hardworking, these immigrants,” Richard comments. From their position of privilege they are condescendingly charitable to her and make vague promises of helping her through the rough patch of unemployment that Harlan’s death has left her in.
But the polished veneer, and the condescending charity is wiped out in an instant, exposing the hypocrisy of this privileged class in a dramatic twist of events, halfway through the film. What follows is a satisfying tale of twists and turns, leading to an immensely satisfying finale.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the mystery is fast paced and with enough twists and turns to keep the element of surprise till the end. In true Agatha Christie style, the drama is confined to the members of the household and there is a proper denouement. But what makes this movie so much more than just an Agatha Christie style murder mystery, and what makes it re-watchable even though you know who did it, is the satirical portrayal of the smugness and hypocrisy of the privileged class of society, a class that is completely convinced that they rightfully deserve what they are born with. And I love how this is presented without any moralistic preaching and without building up Marta, a representative of the struggling underprivileged class, into an epitome of goodness. While she remains warm and generous, Marta also knows hypocrisy when she sees it and gives as good as she gets.
The whole plot comes together so well thanks to the splendid acting by the entire cast. Ana de Armas is convincing as the nervous, conflicted but resourceful Marta. You can feel her plight but at no moment do you feel pity for her. You can feel intimidated by the arrogant Linda and be put off by the conservative crap spouting Richard, played so well by Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson, respectively. Michael Shannon, is convincing as the vaguely threatening and devious Walt, as is Toni Collette in the role of the superficial Joni. And haven’t we all been taken in, at least in romantic books and films, by the handsome bad boy hero like Ransom, played by Chris Evans? The big surprise for me here was Daniel Craig. I have only seen him before in the James Bond films, that are by far not my favourite. Here, as the southern (US) accent spouting, avuncular detective, he was a complete revelation. I cannot judge how well he did the accent. But that accent, coupled with his remarkable expressions and his sharp observations on the Thrombey family happenings made the whole package satisfyingly complete for me.
So, if you are curious if Harlan was really murdered or if Marta’s secret will be exposed or… if the coffee mug really plays a pivotal role, then do watch Knives Out. And please do share your thoughts.
4 thoughts on “Knives Out (2019)”
I too watched this one a couple of years ago, and loved it! Coincidentally, Anu reviewed this just a couple of weeks back, and ever since I read her review, I’ve been wanting to rewatch this. Your review just heightened that urge. (By the way, commendations are in order, not just for a fine review, but also for great captions! They made me giggle, the way Ira’s always did. Brought a smile, and a tear to the eye). Thank you for this.
I saw Anu’s review soon after I had posted mine. It seems that we have enjoyed the movie for many of the same reasons. 🙂 I hope you’ll get a chance to re-watch soon. I’ll be curious to hear if you enjoy it just as much on the second viewing.
And thank you for the appreciative words. They make the effort worth it. 🙂
Coinkadink! 🙂 I am late to the party (been ill and then Christmas baking!) but yeah, I concur with Madhu – lovely captions. 🙂 🙂 Glad you are a Knives Out fan as well – must confess I liked Daniel Craig better as the Southern Detective than I have ever liked him as Bond!
Thank you Anu! Your’s and Madhu’s comments are so encouraging. 🙂 Glad to hear your are better again and already baking for Christmas. Looks like your holiday season is off to a grand start with home baked goodies and Glass Onion! 🙂