By Troy Ribeiro
“Knives Out” is a well-mounted, star-studded, old-style murder mystery that’s entertaining while it lasts. The mystery stems from the death of 85-year-old Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), the world’s bestselling mystery writer who made a multimillion-dollar business empire out of his crime novels.
While the police are ready to call Harlan’s death an open-and-shut suicide case, a private detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), suspecting foul play, decides to treat every member of the Trombey’s household — including Thrombey’s children and their families, and Thrombey’s Hispanic nurse Marta (Ana De Armas) — as suspects.
Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a real estate maven married to smug philanderer Richard (Don Johnson). Their son Ransom (Chris Evans) is the black sheep of the family, whose idle ways are frowned upon by everyone at home. Harlan’s son Walt (Michael Shannon) manages Harlan’s publishing empire, though not with an entirely free hand. His teenage son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) keeps busy trolling liberals on social media, and Harlan’s other daughter, Joni (Toni Collette) is a lifestyle guru trying to find a foothold in the writing sphere.
It appears that almost everyone had a motive, more so once the reading of the will eliminates the entire family out of the multimillion-dollar estate.
The plot appears to be fairly intricate. It keeps you engaged. The narrative leads you to the point of predictability and at times to a point that it doesn’t make sense, but then it soon pulls you back when these plot or motivational holes are plugged. So, in a way the film’s writing appears faultless.
While the film opens with Harlan’s housekeeper (Edi Patterson) finding him dead, the recaps of the previous evening’s birthday celebration from multiple viewpoints allows the formidable detective to show what a teasing old rogue the author was. These repetition of scenes, along with certain sequences that go too long, could bore you or draw your attention away from the film.
But then, what keeps you riveted to the screen, apart from the brilliant performances of the ensemble cast, are the robust technical and ravishing production values.
Production designer David Crank’s intricately furnished set is marvellous. It includes a macabre art piece with knives, axes and saws, fanning out like the backrest of a throne, where most of the action unfolds. This set-piece literally and figuratively lends the film its title.
Overall, “Knives Out” is like an Agatha Christie novel set in present day.