Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson, delivers a modern, yet classic murder mystery film.
By Ben Rigney-Carroll, ‘21
Knives Out, directed by Rian Johnson, is a modern take on the classic murder mystery. Rated PG-13 and released Nov. 27, the film drew large crowds over Thanksgiving. Box office sales have reached over $70 million as of early December.
The film is filled with a mixture of classic murder tropes and modern cultural and political references, placing the observant detective beside the JUUL-dependent millennial, the kind-hearted illegal immigrant, the eccentric mystery writer and the phone-absorbed teenage alt-right troll.
The already renowned cast including Daniel Craig as detective Benois Blanc, Jamie Lee Curtis as Linda Drysdale, Chris Evans as Ransom Drysdale and Katherine Langford as Meg Thrombey gives the eccentric family estate a witty, energetic life of its own.
As the film begins abruptly with the sharp crescendos of a string orchestra, the eldest of the family, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a prolific and wildly successful mystery writer, is found dead in his home. Brought together for the celebration of Harlan’s 85th birthday the evening before, his entire family is gathered at his estate following his death. In the investigation that follows, everyone becomes a suspect as the family is divided by lies, suspicions and a mutual desire for the Thrombey family fortune.
Without spoilers, the elaborate puzzle that is Harlan Thrombey’s death employs a number of clever moving pieces. Because of this, it is very possible for the viewer to fall behind near the end. Though the dialogue does a fair job in both providing context and keeping the viewer on pace with the plot, everything at play over the course of the film is neatly cleaned up in the last few scenes. It’s not until the grand reveal at the end of the film that it is visible how deliberate every line, action and placement was, even from the first scene.
The believability of the plot comes from two distinct factors. First is the characters; in what will ring true for many as the familiar chaos of any family gathering, the ensemble of characters all deliver satisfactory performances on their own, but together they present a strongly relatable depiction of how imperfect real family can be.
The other piece that makes Knives Out’s plot feel so real is the ability the audience has to figure out the ending on their own. Much like a game of Clue, in seeing the events play-out a second time, the small hints at the grand reveal are in plain sight through the whole film. With a bit of thought, most of the finale can be deduced as early as the first 20 minutes, though the plot certainly thickens in the second and third acts, the baseline of answers found in act one makes everything that follows seem to be firmly grounded in real events of a barely fictional 2019 Massachusetts town.
Between its balanced score of somber and sweet harmonica chords and the racing suspense of a violin, Knives Out is a gripping and constantly evolving ride. Despite some issues with its complexity for more casual viewers, Johnson and his talented cast delivers a fresh, modern take on the overdone whodunit formulas. By trading predictability for depth, and tropes for well placed humor, the film is certainly worth seeing.