Rian Johnson took the concept of the Victorian mansion murder mystery and updated it for modern audiences, making it interesting again. It played out like the Clue board game but with additional great wit, suspense, and sardonic humor.
The movie begins with the death of a famous and very rich mystery writer, portrayed by Christopher Plummer, in the attic of his mansion. Don’t worry, Plummer fans, he’s still in quite a bit of the movie as much of it plays out in flashbacks. As the mystery unfolds in an almost Rashomon type arrangement, viewers get to see the previous night from the different points of view of the author’s family members.
Each tells either the part of the story they know or simply the part they’re willing to tell. What little they reveal, is up to the super sleuth, played by Daniel Craig, to piece together. He arrived at the mansion, along with his thick southern drawl, to investigate the once-suspected suicide as, instead, a homicide.
As the plot progresses, you meet each member of the family. The daughter and “self-made” millionaire is played by Jamie Lee Curtis. Don Johnson stars as her untrustworthy husband. Michael Shannon is one of the sons and runs Plummer’s publishing company, and Toni Collette is a widowed daughter-in-law. Chris Evans shows up later in the film as a kind of prodigal grandson with loads of sarcasm and attitude. The whole family, no matter what they say, owes everything they have to their father and never truly earned much without him at least providing the seed money.
The one untarnished character, played by Ana de Armas, acts as Plummer’s caregiver. She’s sweet and trustworthy. So, naturally, she finds herself at the center of all the trouble. Throughout the movie, she can barely stay one step ahead of trouble as she works to figure out what’s going on simultaneously with Craig and the audience themselves.
The fractured storytelling drops clues along the way in a way that it is possible to figure out the killer’s identity ahead of time. Even if you do figure it out, though, the journey is nonetheless fun. The bickering, backstabbing family is hilarious. The dry delivery of barbs from Curtis and Johnson are hilarious to watch.
The guy that steals every scene he’s in, though, is Chris Evans. Good ol’ Captain America himself plays a foul-mouthed slacker with a bad attitude, and he does it extremely well. His delivery may be dryer than the desert, but it’ll definitely have you laughing out loud.
Older Agatha Christie stories often revolve around similar story lines. The whodunit used to be a more predominant film genre. Sometime, though, in the last few decades, the whodunit seems to have taken a backseat to the thriller. Close, but not entirely the same. The difference with some of the older whodunits is that they are often dreary and slow.
I’m not sure if the evolution of the MTV Generation and the need for constant entertainment that arose from that is what did it, but many of those old slower mysteries seem a bit boring, to me at least. Though I appreciate a good, slow burn plot, it has to be done the right way. Rian Johnson did it the right way.
The drive to figure out a mystery by puzzling clues together has been prevalent in writing since writing began, it seems. People like puzzling together the culprit of a crime. In America, the whodunit was even turned into a board game, Clue. Clue was based originally on the 1830 murder of Captain Joseph White, which became a media sensation. Yes, media sensation could happen even without the Internet!
Rian Johnson’s Knives Out plays out like the Clue board game. You watch different characters, all of which seem to have something of a motive. All seem slightly less than trustworthy. It makes for a very entertaining time trying to figure out the one that actually did do it.
Knives Out is worth the watch. It’ll keep you guessing, while keeping you on the edge of your seat at the same time. Even better, you’ll be laughing while biting your nails from the suspense.
Knives Out: A Modernized Whodunit
- Writing - 9.6/109.6/10
- Storyline - 9.6/109.6/10
- Acting - 9.8/109.8/10
- Music - 9/109/10
- Production - 10/1010/10
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