A classic whodunnit with a modern twist, Knives Out is a must-see film! Inspired by Agatha Christie-style mysteries, this film takes the very best parts of the genre and makes it into a suspenseful, thrilling, and unforgettable experience.
Just when you think you know what’s going on, Director Rian Johnson throws in curveball after curveball until you realise you don’t know the half of what’s been going on.
Uniquely, Knives Out is a film that is possibly even better on the second time of viewing.
While with most murder mysteries, knowing who did it would make the second viewing less entertaining, with Knives Out knowing what happened actually makes you able to appreciate the film afresh.
You spot little things that you may not have noticed first time viewing, such as how members of the family remember things about the party in slightly different ways, and you can appreciate anew the twists and turns of the story.
Now, I am a massive fan of murder mysteries and I’ve grown up watching all kinds of detective dramas on TV. So Knives Out appealed to me on that basis. But part of me was also a little wary as I thought a modern-day murder mystery may try to hard to “update” the genre and take away all that was good about it or end up being a low-rent parody of the old murder mysteries.
Thankfully, it ended up being neither! Knives Out is a refreshing take on murder mysteries with a stellar cast and a gripping story that not only makes you wonder whodunnit, but also howdunnit, didtheyactuallydunit, whatactuallyhappened, whatwillhappen, whatwilltheydonext!
Note: I will try not to spoil the plot in this review in case anyone hasn’t seen the film. And if you haven’t seen it- watch it now!
Knives Out opens with a shot of a large gothic mansion where Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) resides. Harlan is a famous crime writer, but the morning after his 85th birthday he is found dead by housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson)- seemingly an open-and-shut case of suicide. Or is it?
Well, as this is a 2 hour film I think we can assume not!
The film starts properly after the funeral, with the two police officers- Detective Lieutenant Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan)- interviewing the various family members of Harlan. These are:
- Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas)- Harlan’s nurse.
- Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis)- Harlan’s daughter, and her husband Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson).
- Hugh “Ransom” Drysdale (Chris Evans)- Linda and Richard’s son, Harlan’s grandson.
- Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette)- Harlan’s daughter-in-law. Her husband is dead.
- Meg Thrombey (Katherine Langford)- Joni’s daughter, Harlan’s granddaughter.
- Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon)- Harlan’s son, and his wife Donna Thrombey (Riki Lindhome).
- Jacob Thrombey (Jaeden Martell)- Walt and Donna’s son, Harlan’s grandson.
- Great Nana Thrombey (K Callan)- Harlan’s very elderly mother.
As they’re interviewed, we find out more about them and about what happened on the night Harlan died through flashbacks.
Also present during this is the mysterious figure of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a rather odd “gentleman sleuth” with an interesting Southern drawl who has been asked to look into the “suicide” by persons unknown. It’s this in particular which makes the suicide suspicious, and so Blanc wants to not only find out what happened, but who sent him the note and why.
Key to the investigation is Harlan’s nurse Marta. Rather unusually, she has a “regurgitative reaction to mistruthin'”. In other words, she vomits whenever she lies which is rather handy when you want to investigate a death!
Very early on in the film we see in flashback what Marta knows about Harlan’s death. But this is far from the whole story.
Knives Out follows Blanc, as he tries to work out what is going on, and Marta, as she tries to navigate her way through the situation and protect herself from the far-from-perfect Thrombey family members.
To avoid giving away too much I won’t say anymore, except that what appeared a simple suicide was anything but!
A sign of a good film is not only that you enjoy watching it, but you think about it long after you see it and you want to recommend it to people and talk about it with them.
And Knives Out made me do just that! I saw it again a couple of months later and I enjoyed it just as much on the second viewing, and it really made me appreciate the film even more.
Firstly, the plot is ingenious. The actual culprit isn’t necessarily unexpected, but the way the story and events play out is not like anything I’ve ever come across before.
Knives Out starts as you might expect a murder mystery to. A death, questioning the family so you get to know the “suspects”, but then, rather than the detective finding out more about each individual and narrowing down the suspects until the final big reveal of who did it, Knives Out puts in its own unique twists!
Around one third of the way through the film, you get an explanation of what happened to Harlan. From this point onwards, Knives Out is a detective film as Blanc looks into what is going on, but with the added suspense that we know more than the detective and see the apparently guilty party trying to manage the situation.
Unlike traditional murder mysteries, we don’t just see the detective’s point of view as we are also on the side of one of the characters/suspects and rooting for them throughout the rest of the film.
Homage to the murder mystery genre
Knives Out is clearly a homage to the murder mystery genre, but updates and reinvents it to make it even more exciting and harder to predict. Even though it is set in the modern day rather than the 1930s, it has a definite vibe of an Agatha Christie which is largely due to the set design and music.
There is a gothic mansion filled with the family, who are a range of different and conflicting characters and, of course, are all suspects. Throw in an odd detective poking around and it will bring back memories of an Agatha Christie mystery story, just set in modern-day America.
The film doesn’t just rehash the murder mystery format though. We don’t simply watch a detective ask questions and fish through a load of red herrings, which eventually leads up to the final explanation of what happened. It is much more layered than that as we also get the perspective of one of the characters, not just the detective, which provides some extra drama and tension.
Knives Out obviously comes from a place of love for murder mysteries.
The film is in no way parodying the genre or making us laugh at its expense, but it is a bit of self-aware fun that pays tribute to all that is great about murder mysteries. It could easily have been a film full of clichés or a film that poked fun at the genre, but it was far from that!
Instead, Knives Out is simply a clever murder mystery that perfectly combines all that was great about the classic stories and adds new twists to make it even more gripping!
Great cast, great set, great music…great film!
Clearly, the all-star cast plays a large part in making the film as good as it is.
James Bond Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, and Toni Collette, as well as Ana de Armas who I’d not heard of before, helps to make Knives Out a who’s who of film.
The cast come from across different film eras with someone that people of every generation will recognise- from the legendary Christopher Plummer to more recent Netflix stars like Katherine Langford.
The focus may primarily be on Marta and Blanc, but every character in the very dysfunctional family has a role to play. Some of my favourite scenes were those with the whole cast, as it allowed them to really bounce off each other and create a tense, scarily relatable, and very entertaining family dynamic!
Also, I need to give a special shout out to the music!
It is so overdramatic and perfectly captures the feeling of every scene. The violins at the very start of the film and the build of the music as we follow Fran through the house until she finds Harlan’s body is just *perfection*.
While we mention the house, another special shout out to the set design! The attention to detail, the colours, and everything about the house (both inside and outside) is again just fantastic.
To sum up, round of applause for Rian Johnson and every other person involved in making Knives Out a visual treat.
Not everything was perfect…
If I was being picky, there were parts of Knives Out that I perhaps didn’t like as much.
It may be an unpopular opinion, but I wasn’t a massive fan of Marta’s quirk of throwing up whenever she lies. I feel it wasn’t completely essential to the film and didn’t add a huge amount, but equally it didn’t ruin it for me so it wasn’t a major issue!
There were also some parts of the story that may not hold up under close inspection, but if you don’t over-analyse the film and just sit back and enjoy the ride, you are sure to have a good time!
The name’s Blanc, Benoit Blanc
Benoit Blanc, the “last gentleman detective”, deserves his own section. He is a homage to detectives of old, perhaps most recognisably Hercule Poirot.
Like Poirot, Blanc is an outsider and is a very odd character. Daniel Craig’s southern accent has been the topic of many discussions about the film, and it certainly is a shock to the system when you first hear it!
However, weirdly it does work and you get used to it very quickly as it matches the character completely. Blanc loves to put on a performance and a lot of what he says/does is quite exaggerated and over the top, but that’s part of what makes Knives Out so fun!
When Blanc starts talking you never know what he will come out with. He rambles on and has a host of metaphors and references that simultaneously make no sense and complete sense all at the same time!
But even though Blanc is eccentric, comes out with some weird sayings, and has some funny moments, he is never a ridiculous or comedic figure that we laugh at. He is shown to be empathetic and also very shrewd (although he does seem to lose all detecting ability in some places!).
He may sometimes give the impression of being oblivious and inept, which can lead people to underestimate him, but in fact he takes everything in and, of course, eventually works out what happened!
And for anyone who says the accent isn’t believable and doesn’t like the film because of it, just think about all the actors who have played Poirot who have put on an accent.
Just as Poirot isn’t your typical Belgian, so Blanc isn’t your typical person from the American South! It adds to the character and makes him even more eccentric and an outsider than he would be if Blanc was played by an actor with a southern accent, or even if Blanc was British. And the detective is called Benoit Blanc which surely tells you all you need to know about what they were aiming for with the character…
Paraguay? Uruguay? Ecuador?
Another great thing about Knives Out is how it subtly shows some of the challenges immigrants in America face, but doing it in a believable and realistic way.
What each Thrombey says and does is definitely in keeping with their characters, so it doesn’t feel like these comments on immigration etc. are forced into the film for the sake of it.
Marta’s family are immigrants but we never know where she’s from as every family member says a different South American country. While this is funny when you pick up on it, it is quite a sad fact that things like that actually happen.
Also, in a scene the family are discussing politics and immigration and, like most family discussions on these subjects, there is a lot of disagreement! It shows several different views but, what was most striking, was the way Richard just passed Marta a plate he was finished with even though she was meant to be “part of the family”.
Similarly, members of the family individually said to Marta that they wanted her at the funeral but they were “outvoted”, again showing she was only a member of the family when it suited them.
Even characters like Meg who initially act all friendly with Marta and seem genuine, quickly change when Marta seemingly threatens their position and privileges.
The actions of the family towards Marta say so much about how people behave and react, and, although it’s not the main point of the film, it does raise some interesting and relevant issues!
Harlan’s will reading scene will never not be funny! The whole family sitting in expectation (except Ransom who is grinning as he knows what’s coming). Then (spoiler), as everything is left to Marta, a pause as the family are all in total shock, then the “…no…” by Walt, followed by them all coming to life as they talk over each other to work out what the hell just happened!
The best bit is when Linda is mid-rant telling everyone to leave and she says: “This is still our house!”. Then a pause. A slow turn to Alan the will reader…
Alan: “Hmm? Oh, likewise the house at 2 Deerbourne Drive and all belongings therein I leave to Marta Cabrera.”
Cue sharp intakes of breath, disbelief, protestations, and fury!
The timing, the pauses, and the reactions are just perfect, and it’s extra fun as it’s one of the few scenes where all the main characters are in the same room.
Runner up: Also, special mention to the scene with the “dumbest car chase of all time”. It may have been the dumbest but it was also one of the best!
A tricky one as all the characters are memorable in their own way!
Clearly Blanc steals the show with his accent and interesting phrases. Marta is the one we are all rooting for. Ransom is not at all likeable but he’s also funny and has good sweaters (also it’s Chris Evans). Linda taking no prisoners in whatever she does. Great Nana sitting there not saying a word. The rest of the family being completely out of touch and being characters we like to dislike.
But for me, one of my favourite characters has to be Detective Lieutenant Elliott played by Lakeith Stanfield.
He’s just there doing his job, but a job that, in his eyes, is completed as Harlan’s death is already ruled as suicide. All throughout Blanc’s investigation he helps to keep things grounded. In a film full of odd, eccentric, and unlikeable characters, he is the most normal one there (along with Marta).
I feel he is almost a spokesperson for the audience- he’s just there trying to make sense of what happened and commenting on the situation like an outsider, such as when he said the Thrombey house was like a Clue board.
He isn’t in awe of the Thrombeys like Trooper Wagner and he isn’t an oddball like Blanc. He’s just your average, normal guy!
Also he calls Benoit Blanc “Benny” which I loved. Can we have a sequel with these two please?!
Let’s be honest, every word that came out of Blanc’s mouth was pure gold. But is there a more iconic quote than:
“I spoke in the car about the hole at the center of this doughnut. And yes, what you and Harlan did that fateful night seems at first glance to fill that hole perfectly. A doughnut hole in the doughnut’s hole. But we must look a little closer. And when we do, we see the doughnut hole has a hole in its centre – it is not a doughnut hole, but a smaller doughnut with its own hole, and our doughnut is not whole at all!”Benoit Blanc as he finally cracks the case!
More Blanc classics:
“I suspect foul play. *dramatic pause* I have eliminated no suspects.”Benoit Blanc
“A community theatre production of a tax return”Blanc’s description of a will reading.
“A pack of vultures at the feast. Knives out, beaks bloody.”Benoit Blanc’s accurate description of the Thrombeys.
Joni: “Can we ask why? Has something changed?”
Joni: “No it hasn’t changed or no we can’t ask?”When Blanc asked the family to stay at the house.
To summarise in a few sentences:
Knives Out has a fantastic and unpredictable story that will keep you guessing until the end. It has a witty and thrilling script, a fantastic cast, a beautiful set, and dramatic music- what more do you want?!
If you’ve not seen Knives Out, watch it now. If you have seen it, is it too soon to watch it again?