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REVIEW: 'Knives Out' is sharp comedy-mystery with great ensemble
REVIEW

REVIEW: 'Knives Out' is sharp comedy-mystery with great ensemble

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Linda Cook

Linda Cook

Oh, is this ever a sharp murder mystery — a comedy with an edge.

The title “Knives Out,” according to answers.com, was an order to the troops before and during World War I to mount bayonets on rifles before a charge or defense.

The wonderful Christopher Plummer is at the center of this ensemble as Harlan Thrombey, who has just turned 85. He is a mystery novelist, adored by his readers for his complex, challenging plots beloved the world over.

Hours before his death, his dysfunctional family gathers for a party. His “loved” ones include:

  • Realtor daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her philandering husband Richard (Don Johnson)
  • His son Walt (Michael Shannon,) administrator for his father’s literary estate — and who wants to make a movie deal with his father’s works
  • His widowed daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette,) a new-age-y type whose daughter Meg (Katherine Langford) is going to college with Grandpa footing the bill
  • His grandson Ransom (Chris Evans,) a spoiled brat
  • His teenage grandson Jacob (Jaeden Martell,) who trolls the internet with his conservative views.
  • Detective Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) doesn’t believe the patriarch killed himself, although he does acknowledge a knife obviously is involved in the death. Daniel Craig plays — to the hilt, you might say — the brilliant Benoit Blanc, a Southern sleuth from Louisiana who irritates nearly every member of the family.

Blanc, always with a smirk, asks everyone to explain their whereabouts and relationships with the other people — he comes off a little like Peter Falk in television’s “Columbo.”

Housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) is the one who came upon the dead man. But it’s Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana De Armas) who may hold the key to unlock all the answers: She is unable to lie without throwing up.

So, with Marta as his Watson, Blanc begins to pry the truth out of her and answer dozens of questions — including who hired Blanc in the first place.

I love the way the family tries to come off as compassionate, yet, after much questioning, they begin to show signs of superiority and greed. Although this is mostly a comedy, the film has something to say about social class and the sense of entitlement underneath its laughs and surprises.

Director Rian Johnson also wrote the screenplay (additionally, he directed and co-wrote “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi,” if his name sounds familiar.) I love the way the plot twists around itself, with its red herrings and suspects with all their motivations. Plus the idea this all centers around the death of a mystery writer is charming.

If you’re a mystery fan, get a clue and go enjoy this.

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Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.

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