If you’re looking for something recent to watch during quarantine, Rian Johnson’s newest movie, Knives Out is just the choice. Starring Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera and Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc, the film presents a clever whodunnit with a structural twist. Although the plot of the film is nothing revolutionary, the ensemble cast nails their part as the insane Thrombey family. Each character in the family is spoiled enough to hate but quirky enough that you enjoy every moment of their torment as they scramble to get their part of their millionaire patriarch, Harlan Thrombey’s inheritance.
From the beginning of the film Harlan Thrombey’s death is no secret, but in a cunning twist, Rian Johnson presents his nurse, Marta Cabrera’s eyewitness account of the death in the form of a flashback. From that moment on the question shifts from “Who killed Harlan Thrombey?” to “Can Marta Cabrera survive the ensuing chaos?”. Marta must move carefully to avoid incrimination, and every money hungry family member represents a threat to the nurse.
Marta is assisted by detective Benoit Blanc, whose over the top southern accent hides his calculating skills of deduction. Craig plays Benoit Blanc like a modern Sherlock Holmes, piecing together ridiculous events and double crosses, but unlike Sherlock Holmes, Benoit Blanc does not steal the spotlight. Blanc is secondary to Marta’s story, a choice which allows for an intriguing view of a classic detective story from a much more interested party. Cabrera and Blanc may work together at times, but the most interesting parts of their interactions are when they are hiding things from each other.
The Thrombey family make up the rest of the cast, and it is impossible not to feel a little disgusted by their selfish antics. They are stereotypically spoiled, and constantly cross each other and mistreat the staffers. Harlan’s children squabble over the inheritance, each seeking what they believe they deserve while exposing their numerous faults. Each member is almost a caricature, from the failed self help guru Joni, to the snivelling alt right grandson Jacob. Although they are entertaining, there seems to be some flimsy attempt at social commentary going on which falls almost completely flat for lack of substance.
Although the acting is on point, the visual direction of the film is inconsistent. Some shots are striking and colorful, while at other times the film looks like something off of primetime television. While it is understandable that Rian Johnson was attempting to be more practical than artistic, the stunning, knife laden interiors of the Thromby Manor overshadow the parts of the film that take place elsewhere. Every scene outside of the manor seems less dramatic and cheapens the film overall.
Overall, the movie is a very fun murder mystery story in the style of an Agatha Christie. Although Ana de Armas’ role as the compassionate nurse ends up stealing the show for most of the movie, I look forward to seeing Daniel Craig reprise his role as Benoit Blanc in the upcoming sequel. I recommend pairing the movie with a game or two of Clue to get in the mood for mystery. Knives Out is now available for rent on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.