KNIVES OUT Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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It was Tony, in the library, with the paper knife.

Knives Out is a movie that invites you, implores you, almost begs you to notice inconsistencies in reality. It’s written, produced and directed by Rian Johnson, who previously wrote and directed The Last Jedi, and at first glance, it might seem something of a gamble. Writing, producing and directing a full-length movie can lead to a bubble-universe of subjectivity which, when allowed into the light of audience appreciation is then mercilessly stripped away, revealing all the alternative choices that should have been made (See also, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels reboot under the stewardship of Elizabeth Banks).

If that’s what you see at first glance though…take another look at the movie poster.

D’you see that cast?

Daniel ‘James Bond’ Craig. Chris ‘Captain America’ Evans. Michael ‘General Zod’ Shannon. Don ‘Sonny Crockett’ Johnson. Toni ‘So freaking much but let’s say United States of Tara’ Collette. Lady ‘Jamie Lee Freakin’ Curtis!’ Haden-Guest. Christopher ‘Forget About Listing This Guy’s Career Highlights, We’ll Be here All Day’ Plummer. Even the second row of names bristles with potential and talent – Katherine Langford, Lakeith Stanfield, Riki Lindholme, Jaeden Martell. And at the centre of it all, carrying much of the movie’s drama, Ana ‘Blade Runner 2049’ de Armas.

That right there, friends, is one hell of a cast. You don’t get that cast without an absolute doozy of a script. And more importantly, you don’t keep that cast if it looks like you’re wandering up your own creative bubble.

Knives Out, you should know, certainly has the script that would attract these names – while ostensibly, it’s a murder mystery, the initial level of mystery in the murder is dispensed with fairly early on, albeit there are layers within layers. But what it is, much more than that, is a character drama. It’s three generations of entitled, supposedly self-made entrepreneurs, trapped in their family home together to celebrate the 85th birthday of the patriarch, murder mystery writer Harlan Thrombey. The next morning, he’s found dead, his throat cut in his attic room, and through the grief, thoughts turn to wills, inheritances, mmmmmoneymoneymoneymoneymoney…

Except it’s not going to be that simple for the Thrombey family, because by the time the will is read, a private consulting detective, Benoit Blanc, has been engaged to investigate the death and any suspicions of foul play surrounding it.

What’s revealed at the will reading fuels rage, indignation and recrimination among the Thrombey family, each of whom, it emerges, has their own motives, their own secrets and their own mysteries to solve or not solve as the investigation rolls along. But Benoit Blanc has his own questions too – not the least of which is why he’s there at all, when the local police are already conducting enquiries.

The beauty of Knives Out is that for the most part it works and feels like a play, a modern country house murder mystery where hard-boiled events fuel motives for action, and where everybody’s hiding at least something. That’s how you attract a cast of legends and legends-in-waiting – by speaking to the conventions of the stage, and giving them real, complex characters to play.

Essentially, what Johnson’s done is take JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, stripped out some of the early 20th century compassionate socialism, smashed it together in a hadron collider with the game of Clue or Cluedo (depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on), significantly deepen all the characters and make it blisteringly socially relevant to the times in which we find ourselves. Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) was a genuinely self-made man, and arguably the last truly grounded Thrombey. In his advancing age, he’s needed more and more help from his nurse-companion, the South American Marta Cabrera (de Armas), whom the family takes pride in believing they’ve ‘always taken care of,’ extending the condescension of inherited wealth to assure her they’ll still ‘take care of her’ when the death of Harlan means she’s no longer needed.

Harlan’s two surviving children, Linda Drysdale and Walt Thrombey (Curtis and Shannon respectively) exist in a state of rivalry over who best exemplifies the old man’s self-made spirit, Linda with her own real estate company, or Walt who runs the publishing house that produces Harlan’s ongoing series of crime thrillers. Linda’s husband Richard (Johnson) has a tense relationship with her, as he claims to help run her company – a claim she resents. Are they the faithful, happy couple they pretend to be? For that matter, are Walt and his wife Donna, the permanently-pearled WASP sorority queen (Lindhome), the power couple they claim to be either?

What of Joni Thrombey (Colette), hippy lifestyle guru, widow of Harlan’s eldest son Neil? Think Gwyneth Paltrow dipped in failure and patchouli, she’s unsubtly despised by most of the ‘true’ Thrombeys, and she needs money to fund the expensive education of her daughter Meg (Langford). Could the peace-loving vibe-merchant have turned to murder?

Then there’s Hugh Ransom Drysdale (Evans), ungrateful, bone idle progeny of Linda and Richard. He and Harlan were seen to argue on the night of the old man’s party, and Hugh flounced out like a drama queen in a Facebook group. He even missed the old man’s funeral, but turned up to laugh at the will reading. Suspicious, or no more than the Thrombeys and Drysdales deserve? You decide.

This is the family we’re dealing with, each of them a meaty, deeply-motivated character in their own right. With the addition of a ‘masturbating Nazi child’ – alt-right teen Jacob Thrombey (Martell), Great Nana Thrombey, Harlan’s distinctly static and apparently ageless mother (K Callan), Fran the housekeeper and Marta the nurse-companion (Patterson and de Armas), the players are in place. The questions of who killed Harlan Thrombey, how, why and whether they got or will get what they deserve power the movie on, like Agatha Christie meets Modern Family down a dark passageway, and some glorious amalgum comes out the other side.

The local law, in the persons of Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) are initially keen to write up Thrombey’s death as a suicide. But can the great crime writer’s sudden death be anything as simple as that?

Especially once Benoit Blanc arrives. Blanc, played with an outrageously infectious Kentucky Fried Accent and the casual manner of a deeply southern Columbo by Daniel Craig – yes, really, it’s a thing to hear - has no real idea why he’s there, but he’s been paid to investigate, and things seem odd to him the moment he begins to talk to the family and staff. Any family will have its secrets. Families as dysfunctional and entitled as the Thrombeys even more so. But did any of them murder the old man? And if not, as the local police believe, then why is he there at all?

The conventions of Agatha Christie and Clue, with sprinklings of the likes of Sleuth, abound in this movie, so if you’re an armchair detective, you’ll absolutely love it. Equally, if you’re a student of modern American humanity and politics, you’ll get several dark kicks out of it too – there’s discussion of babies in cages, the journey of immigrants to US citizenship, and there’s also the stripping away of some liberal characters’ condescension in the face of a risk to all the inherited ease they’ve known. Marta, and her immigrant mother, become a focus for this modern debate as the murder mystery rolls on, taking in an additional blackmail plot, a manipulative mirror through which to see events and motives, an arson attack, a (possibly second?) murder, the degree to which the rich will compromise any principles to keep hold of what they have, a test of ultimate character when faced with the intricacies of the law, and possibly the (acknowledged) stupidest car chase in history. It’s heady stuff, and while the car chase feels slightly odd because it breaks the claustrophobic tension of the house environment, there’s barely a dull moment in over two hours of run time, and despite taking the viewer on some pretty convoluted twists along the way – you know you want it to! – everything ultimately makes sense at the end, leading to a delicious denouement for those whose social conscience has been itching to slap a Thrombey or two for a while.
With a cast sent by the gods, a script as twisted as a Trump-tweet but with far more internal consistency and a much happier ending, Knives Out should definitely be in your top five movies of 2019. If you haven’t seen it yet, you’re going to want to change that. Now.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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