‘Knives Out’ Review: And You Thought Your Family Had Issues

Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to come together and give thanks and be around each other in a loving environment. It’s almost sacred. But along with turkey and stuffing and pie, some families also deal with dysfunction and chaos. It’s fitting that Rian Johnson’s new murder-mystery, Knives Out, is opening right before the Thanksgiving holiday. Because no matter how broken you might think your family is, they have nothing on the Thrombeys.

Knives Out is the story of the investigation into the death of the Thrombey family patriarch, Harlan (Christopher Plummer), a successful mystery writer who built a mass fortune off his books. Harlan is found dead by an apparent suicide to open the film. It’s an open and shut case for the local detectives, led by Lt. Elliot (LaKeith Stanfield) and State Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan).

Things get complicated when a mysterious person hires famed southern Master Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to go over the facts, and Blanc begins to find irregularities in the story. The case takes a wild turn when he begins to interview the Thrombey family, one by one, on the day after the funeral.

Detective Blanc listens

The Thrombeys are a complicated lot. Led by daughter Linda Drysdale, nee Thrombey (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband, Richard (Don Johnson) and their son, Ransom (Chris Evans), each member of the Drysdale family has their hands in some pot or another and all suck off the teat of Harlan and his success. Harlan’s son Walt (Michael Shannon) has worked with his father to build the publishing empire, but he’s always looking for a bigger cut. Walt’s son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is a high school student with a dark side.

Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette) is Harlan’s daughter-in-law — his other son died and she kept the name. She and her daughter, Meg (Katherine Langford), have been living off an allowance and when a discrepancy in the accounting appears, Harlan realizes that Joni has been milking him. To put in bluntly, the Thrombeys are a collection of scoundrels, and any one of them would benefit from the death of the elder Harlan.

Meg and Marta conspire

Rounding out the cast of Knives Out — and the suspects — is Harlan’s caregiver, Marta (Ana de Armas). Marta is the only person with nothing to gain from his death, yet Detective Blanc quickly learns that she is the key to everything.

Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) both writes and directs, and his script takes viewers through many different rabbit holes. In a stroke of narrative genius, Johnson reveals who did what and why in the first half of the film, and then deliciously muddies the water in the exposition for the rest of the film. There are the classic tropes of a whodunnit, but they are used more as homage and less as cliche. Johnson juggles such a large cast of characters, most confined to the Thrombey estate, and still gives each time breathe and grow.

Detective detecting

The performances in Knives Out are what carry the film. Curtis and Johnson are wonderful as the Drysdales, and Shannon’s Walt begs the viewer for sympathy all the while breeding a deeper darkness. Collette is a twisted version of Gwyneth Paltrow, and the three grandchildren, as played by Evans, Langford, and Martell, should never be trusted with any amount of money — or weapons. Daniel Craig sheds his super spy persona for a wonderful take as a southern gentlemen, and I would love to see Detective Blanc return in another film or three. But the true star here is de Armas, who shines in the role as the only reasonable person in the ensemble.

Knives Out does a wonderful job of layering the story in such a way that even though the “mystery” is solved early, there is still much to be resolved in the second half of the film. And it still keeps the audience guessing until the very end. That’s the hallmark of a great mystery story, and Johnson and his cast pull off this caper like master criminals — and they get away with it too.

Never trust a guy named Ransom

So if your family get-together gets to be too much this holiday, your local theater will offer you an alternative to your own chaos. Knives Out is the perfect film to make you forget about that one uncle whose politics are a little off, that brother that has a plan to get rich quick and all they need from you is a small investment, or that niece that has “THOT” inexplicably tattooed to her forehead. Trust me, the Thrombeys are much worse.

Knives Out is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.

The Thrombey family in Knives Out
out of 5

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