Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper), Knives Out follows the clues behind the death of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a wealthy author who is murdered after his birthday party. Called in by a mysterious benefactor, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is called in to help unravel the mystery amongst Harlan’s quirky relatives, including Harlan’s daughter, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), his sons Richard (Don Johnson) and Walt (Michael Shannon) and caregiver Marta (Ana de Armas).
From Brick to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Johnson’s films thrive when thrown into a genre and given the opportunity to turn it on its head. Thankfully, Knives Outcontinues this trend of success by offering a wild and sharply-written homage to classic ‘whodunnit’ mysteries of old. Featuring a grizzled but relentless detective, multiple suspects with questionable alibis, and even on old mansion that feels as much a character within the film as its stars, Knivescarries with it all the tropes established in the best pulp detective novels. (In fact, at one point, the film even refers to itself as a game of Clue, the classic mystery board game.) However, thanks to Johnson’s witty writing and incredible performances by its cast, the film absolutely pops onscreen and never feels stale.
Featuring an all-star cast, the film allows every one of its characters to shine in various moments. However, it’s Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc that proves to be the standout. As Blanc, Craig is simply wonderful and may have even found a character to define his career when 007 retires. Channeling the best of Poirot and Sherlock Holmes, Craig often holds the film together with his hard-nosed growl and solid comedic timing.
While the film focuses its narrative primarily on the mystery, it’s also interesting to note the subtext that comes within the family drama and, more specifically, its conversation surrounding immigration. The lightning rod of this conversation surrounds Marta, Harlan’s personal caregiver. Young, hard-working and faithful, Marta is repeated referred to as ‘family’ by Harlan’s children. [Potential minor spoilers] However, things change dramatically when its suggested that Harlan may have wanted to reward her properly for her loyalty. After that, the family begins to question her involvement with their father and whether or not she even belongs in their country at all. Despite their love of Marta, when their potential windfall is threatened, her value moves quickly from cherished member of the family to illegal immigrant. [Potential spoilers end]
While subtle, Johnson uses this Marta’s role in the family to highlight a much larger social issue. By using Marta as an example, Johnson highlights the fragile nature of American value of immigrants who are often perceived as welcome members of the country, until something goes wrong. All of a sudden, when someone or something needs to be blamed for the country’s ills, too often those who have immigrated quickly become scapegoats. Despite their value as people, they quickly become viewed as the dangerous ‘other’ who are unjustly accused. As a result, despite its pulp detective framework, Johnson layers a beating heart of justice to his work that challenges the viewer’s ideologies.
In the end, there will be few films this year that are as fun and entertaining as Knives Out. Writer/director Johnson has once again woven a complex narrative filled with unique and engaging characters that will be well worth the price of admission. In doing so, the film also manages to highlight the difficulties inherent to America’s immigration issues as well.
Knives Out spins its web of lies in theatres on November 27th, 2019.