Knives Out


            Remember those old school mysteries, where all the characters are sitting around the parlor, and all of them seem to have a motive, and the detective comes in and has to sort out who's telling the truth and who's lying?  “Knives Out” is like that.  It feels old school.  But it's a delicious little morsel, anyway.  And it will keep you guessing.

            Writer and Director Rian Johnson introduces us to Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy and very sucessful novelist who's celebrating his 85th birthday with his family.  It all sounds warm and fuzzy, until we begin to meet the sycophants around the room.  The older daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) will tell you she built a business from the ground up, but we later find out that her father gave her the seed money.  Her husband, Richard (Don Johnson) only turns on the charm when he's dissembling.  Their ne'er do well son, Ransom (Chris Evans, aka Captain America) doesn't have anything nice to say to anybody. The younger daughter, Joni (Toni Collette) is also still supported by her Dad, when she's not deluding herself into thinking she's some kind of health guru.  Her husband's dead, but their daughter, Meg (Katherine Langford) is also on the family dole in order to finish college. Then there's Harlan's irascible son, Walt (Michael Shannon), who's running the publishing house that prints his father's books, but he's constantly debating with his father about ways to expand the business. His wife, Donna (Riki Lindhome) isn't happy, either.  In fact, no one here appears to be very happy.  Least of all poor Harlan, who's found dead by the housekeeper, Fran (Edi Patterson).  And the last person who was with him was his personal nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who actually seems to have the least to gain from the old man's demise.  But all is not as it appears.

            Two local detectives are brought in, but then a somewhat famous private eye, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, aka James Bond) is also hired, except we don't seem to know by whom.  What follows is a series of half-clues, red herrings, mixed motives, and rationalizations.  Yes, and a little viewer deception along the way, because of course there are certain things we aren't told until near the end.  By the time we get there, we've enjoyed all the little snippy bon mots of this English-looking parlor drama that's actually set in modern Virginia.

            Those of you who follow movies will notice that this is quite an impressive ensemble cast.  And that, of course, is what keeps it all afloat.  Some of the fake accents are a bit inconsistent, and Writer/Director Johnson can't help but insert a few political digs.  But overall, it's a cloistered piece of amusement that many diverse demographics can enjoy together.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association