‘Knives Out’ builds a smart, funny mystery

Brian Lang

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Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Riki Lindhome, Jaeden Martell, and Katherine Langford in Knives Out (2019)

A murder in an ornate mansion, contentious heirs gathering for a funeral, and an off-kilter detective looking for answers. Rian Johnson’s newest blockbuster “Knives Out” sounds like the setup for a game of “Clue,” but its mystery can’t be solved by the powers of deduction alone.

When author-millionaire Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his mansion, his family gathers at the country estate to lay claim to the family fortune. Thrombey threw an extravagant 85th birthday party the night of his death and although there were many alleged disputes with his children, they all claim to have been on good terms with their father at the time of his death. 

Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is called to the mansion on the day of the will reading to conduct another round of interviews from the family, and what appears to be a suicide might be something much more sinister. 

“Knives Out” feels like Agatha Christie for the 21st century with its clutch of high caliber actors, twisty plot lines and delicious comedy. Johnson masterfully directs the murder mystery that has the logic and tension of a classic, mystery novel paired with the comedy of a blockbuster hit. 

The dialogue, editing and casting keep the story snappy, grabbing the audience’s attention from the start and refusing to let go until the last frame. The plot and characters feel overwhelming at first as the audience is forced to sort through the half-dozen Thrombeys and connect how they’re all related to one another. Slick editing and clean writing ease the process along though, and the story speeds up after that.

The cast is comprised of some of the biggest names in Hollywood, and each role, no matter how small, has juicy moments. Standouts include Jaime Lee Curtis as the self-assured daughter, Toni Collette as the zany daughter-in-law, and Chris Evans who plays against typecast as the sarcastic jerk and grandson to Harlan, Ransom Drysdale.

Ana de Armas plays the star of the mystery, Harlan’s kind nurse Marta, who has a convenient habit of throwing up whenever she tells a lie. She easily holds her own against these acting giants and crafts her character in sharp contrast to those around her. While the other characters are scheming and selfish, de Armas character acts sympathetic and relatable. 

Craig introduces Detective Blanc with a thick southern drawl and his piercing blue eyes observe everything, directing the audience to some clues while diverting them from others.

Blanc and Marta guide the audience through the game of cat and mouse, and Johnson rigs the game to always give the viewer just a little more information than the characters know on-screen.

“Knives Out” presents a  mystery that will keep viewers guessing until the last scenes and feeling foolish for missing so many obvious hints. Johnson lulls the audience into thinking the case is wrapped up from the start and takes that sense of security to the bank as he builds the mystery around the viewers. “Knives Out” creates a crime that won’t easily be forgotten.