I don’t quite believe that the truth is subjective,
A trite protocol
That changes and varies
From person to person.
Such thoughts only worsen
The idea that truth isn’t out there at all.
No, no, there is truth, even-handed, objective,
But often concealed
In worry and caring,
Fake news and red herring.
It leads us on chases
To unpleasant places.
The few who keep up get to see it revealed.
MPA rating: PG-13 (a bit heavy on language, as much as they could fit in while retaining its rating)
I still have Blindspots to catch up on, but it seemed past time to watch a movie that I’ve been wanting to see since it came out last year (until a certain virus kept me from the second-run theater I was planning to visit). The murder mystery genre has fallen by the wayside in recent years, but if any film can revitalize it, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out is the one to do it. Being a fan of Johnson’s contentious The Last Jedi, I was eager to see what he’d do next, and Knives Out did not disappoint.
Named after the Radiohead song of the same name, the film doesn’t waste time getting to the murder, as the first scene involves the morning discovery of mystery writer Harlan Thrombey’s body (Christopher Plummer) after he apparently cut his throat in his study sometime during the night. Like so many other classic mysteries, the large ensemble cast is full of splashy characters, most of whom have a potential motive for the Thrombey patriarch’s death. At first, there doesn’t seem to be a main character as detectives (Lakeith Stanfield, Noah Segan) interview Harlan’s discordant family: his arrogant daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her husband (Don Johnson), his insecure son (Michael Shannon), and his self-absorbed daughter-in-law (Toni Collette), among others. Gradually, though, famed Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, handily covering his British accent with a Southern drawl) takes the stage, as does Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), Harlan’s personal nurse who physically cannot tell a lie.
Replete with flashbacks to the night of Thrombey’s death, Knives Out is artfully organized to show only what Rian Johnson wants to show, which is often more than you’d expect. In fact, the story seems to show its cards much earlier than you’d expect from a film over two hours long, seeming to go from a mystery to a cover-up, but it still has plenty of twists to trigger second-guessing and culminates in true murder mystery form with some climactic revelations. And through it all, the story’s convolutions and colorful characters played by actors in peak form (including Chris Evans) make for prime entertainment.
Craig is likably hammy as his Benoit Blanc doesn’t always seem as self-aware as a master sleuth should, though he proves his deductive abilities by the end; and Ana de Armas is a special stand-out in what is likely a star-making role, considering she was singled out for a Golden Globe nomination, as was Craig. Considering the overwhelmingly positive reception Knives Out has received, including being named one of AFI’s Top Ten Films of the Year, I’m actually a bit surprised it didn’t get more attention at the Oscars beyond a Best Original Screenplay nod; with all the flashbacks in the Thrombey mansion, I would think it deserved some attention for editing or production design.
The murder mystery genre has been so oversaturated over the years, from cozy Hallmark mysteries to decades of primetime series, that it’s a noteworthy exception when one can warrant this kind of all-star cast and big-screen appeal, subverting and embracing clichés in equal measure. Boasting a sly political subtext that paints both sides negatively and lauding compassion over selfishness, Knives Out proves that, in the right hands, any genre can be resurrected. Rian Johnson hit gold here, and I can’t wait to see if he can hit it again with the inevitable sequels to which Benoit Blanc lends himself.
Best line: (Blanc) “The complexity and the gray lie not in the truth but what you do with the truth once you have it.”
© 2020 S.G. Liput
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