On the morning after his 85th birthday party, beloved mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead with his throat slit. For Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) this is an open and shut case of suicide, until Private Investigator Benoit Blanc arrives on the scene hired by an unknown benefactor. Suspects? The entire Thrombey clan.
Every member of this star-studded ensemble is having the time of their lives with Rian Johnson’s ingenious whodunnit spectacular. Among these performances are Captain America-turned-problem child Ransom (Chris Evans), the jobless bachelor grandson who misses the funeral but is early for the will reading – naturally. Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon are also on top form as Harlan’s two surviving children Walt and Linda (Toni Collette plays the ‘influencer’ wife of his late son with perfect beach waves and scathing comebacks). Walt now runs his father’s publishing company, and Linda a self-made businesswoman who will remind you of the fact every chance she gets.
Their children all embody instantly recognisable archetypes; Meg (Katherine Langford) is the young social activist, Jacob (Jaeden Martell), referred to by Blanc as “the nazi child masturbatin’ in the bathroom”, and of course, Ransom. There is one more pawn to be carefully placed, Harlen’s nurse, the kind-hearted Marta played to perfection by Ana de Armas. She has an unusual ailment in that she can’t lie. If she lies, her fear prompts her to throw up, making her an invaluable ally in this tangled web of an investigation. The stage is set at the aforementioned will reading, and when every pawn is in place, the game is afoot.
Stellar production designers made sure Johnson had lots to play with in the Thrombey house; bearskin rugs cover the creaky floorboards of Harlen’s study, comically large magnifying glasses examine the carpets of the hidden attic entryway, and Blanc mysteriously flips a silver coin as he watches the interrogations. All the ingredients are cooked to perfection and viewers might struggle to find a weak link in this lean cut mystery.
Knives Out takes on subjects like privilege, class, and immigration with bounds of wit and perfect precision. It’s distinctly in touch with 2019; characters quote Hamilton and the family argues over politics and kids being put in cages by the president. It examines political tensions without an ounce of self-righteousness, and all the while still leaves it’s audience clutching their seats roaring with laughter. And yet, doing so never comes at the expense of the genre. It’s a classic murder mystery all right, but it’s deliciously self-aware; Lieutenant Elliot at one moment shouting, “Look around, the guy practically lives in a Clue board!” Rian Johnson has commandeered a mystery filled with so many twists and turns it’ll leave your head spinning and begging for more.
Knives Out is in UK cinemas November 29th.
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian studying Film & Publishing. She has written freelance for Little White Lies, Dazed, SciFiNow, and more. Her favourite films include Logan, Columbus, and Spy-Kids. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Letterboxd at @millicentonfilm