Eight suspects. Three detectives. One body. The evening after his 85th birthday party, novelist Harlan Thrombey is found dead. All signs seem to point to suicide, except for the mysterious hiring of noted dectective Benoit Blanc, played by Daniel Craig doing his best Frank Underwood impression. And then there’s the fact that Harlan’s family members just learned he was writing them out of the will.
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out isn’t your standard Masterpiece Mystery fare, it’s a little more in the vein of Clue and the murder mystery-comedies of the 70s, like the classic Murder by Death. Yes, there is still a looming Victorian mansion full of secret passageways, and there is a detective with a bit of a silly accent, but it’s so much more than that.
Everyone has a potential motive–the cheating son-in-law (Don Johnson), the cowed son who just wants to sell movie rights to Netflix (Michael Shannon), the leeching lifestyle guru (Toni Collete), the petit neo-Nazi grandson and internet troll (Jaeden Martell), and the nurse who has just conveniently been made Harlan’s sole benefactor (Ana de Armas).
The heart of the film is Harlan’s caretaker Marta, played by the charming future Bond babe Ana de Armas. Sweet and kind, she befriends Harlan during his final years, and stands in stark contrast to his grasping, spoiled family. Marta’s family is undocumented. No one in the Thrombey family can seem to remember which Latin American country she is from, despite constantly espousing their love for her and how she’s part of the family. Until they’ve learned they’ve all been bypassed in her favor, that is.
Johnson deftly and humorously plays with mystery tropes as the plot twists and turns, but a real love for the genre comes through. It’s hard to talk about the film without too much away, which would defeat the purpose of a murder mystery, as guessing is half the fun.
A little bit Gosford Park, a little bit Clue, Knives Out is a wickedly fun whodunit. The star-studded cast is wonderfully over the top; who knew Chris Evans of Marvel Universe fame could play such a great jerk? Daniel Craig’s ridiculous Southern drawl is a little grating at first, but it gets easier to ignore as the Thrombey family intrigue pulls you in.
If it’s getting too testy in your own house this Thanksgiving, why not cut through the tension by going to see another family fighting? Knives Out will be released in theaters on November 27.