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"KNIVES OUT"
(2019) (Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Mystery: When an elderly millionaire's death is ruled a suicide, a master detective is hired to prove it was murder and it soon becomes clear that nearly all of his immediate family are suspects.
PLOT:
When a best-selling, multi-millionaire mystery novelist named Harlan Thrombey (CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER) commits suicide, his family gathers to mourn him and to see what he left them in his will. But first things first. They have to answer questions from police Lieutenant Elliott (LaKEITH STANFIELD) about the circumstances surrounding Harlan's death. The more he probes, the more it becomes clear that the interrogations are being driven by an intrepid private investigator named Benoit Blanc (DANIEL CRAIG), who has been hired by an anonymous source to prove that the elderly man was actually murdered.

Blanc comes to believe this is true and quickly focuses on Harlan's eccentric family members. There's his daughter, Linda Drysdale (JAMIE LEE CURTIS), who Harlan loaned a large sum of money to launch her successful business, and her husband, Richard Drysdale (DON JOHNSON). Linda and Richard's never-do-well son, Ransom Drysdale (CHRIS EVANS), is also in the mix, as is Harlan's son, Walt Thrombey (MICHAEL SHANNON), who has been running Harlan's publishing empire. Finally, there's Joni Thrombey (TONI COLLETTE), Harlan's former daughter-in-law who he still helps out by paying her daughter, Meg's (KATHERINE LANGFORD), college tuition.

But Richard is cheating on Linda, and Harlan knew about it. Ransom and Harland quarreled behind closed the doors the night of his death, and no one knows about what. Harlan had just fired Walt from the family business in the hopes that he would stake his own claim in the world. And Harlan recently found out that Joni has been skimming from the tuition payments for years and had called her on it. Meanwhile, Harlan had gotten close to his full-time nurse, Marta (ANA de ARMAS) and loyal housekeeper, Fran (EDI PATTERSON). Any of them could have killed the man.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I love mysteries, whether they are mystery movies, mystery books, or mystery TV programs. The problem is, once I've seen or read the mystery and know the outcome, I don't tend to want to revisit the story. There is a reason why there is such joy associated with the phrase "Mystery solved!" It's like "Mission Accomplished!" Often, the only joy remaining in a second viewing is taking someone who hasn't seen the mystery flick and watching their reactions to the revelations at the end (or to see if they can solve the thing before you did).

But there are certain mystery movies that warrant repeat viewings. One reason is to see how well-constructed the film was and how adept the cast and crew were in concealing the surprises 'til the very end. Another reason is because the performances are a joy to watch a second time around. Both reasons can be applied to "Knives Out," writer-director Rian Johnson's fun and very well-made mystery-comedy that centers around a master detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) being hired to determine if the death of a multi-millionaire mystery novelist named Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) was a suicide or a murder. Blanc suspects foul play almost immediately and casts suspicion on every one of Harlan's immediate family.

And what suspects they are! If I have one main criticism of the movie, it's that there are too many good characters in it, all played by game and capable actors, and not enough screen time to devote to all of them. There is Michael Shannon, who looks like he shows up to set each morning and leaves each evening patting down forehead and neck sweat. He plays Harlan's son, Walt, who runs his publishing empire. But Harlan has recently fired him so he can go make his own name. There's Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Harlan's ice-queen daughter who owes her successful business to a $1 million loan Harlan floated her years earlier. She's married to Richard (Don Johnson), who's cheating on her and Harlan knows it.

Another suspect is Joni (Toni Collette), Harlan's widowed daughter-in-law who is skimming from the college tuition money Harlan has been giving his granddaughter, Meg (Katherine Langford). Toni's Joni is a master study in nervous tics, motor-mouthed angst, and earthy-crunchy platitudes. And then there's Ransom (Chris Evans), Harlan's arrogant, studly grandson who finds out the night before his grandfather's death that Harlan is not only disinheriting him he's disinheriting the entire family!

All of those talented actors get to vamp and camp it up while sitting around Harlan's Wayne Manor-like estate waiting for the old man's will to be read and for the ahem knives to come out again (Harlan died from an apparent throat-slitting). And Blanc gets to observe all of them in their natural habitat, reacting to each in his goofy, Southern, Foghorn Leghorn way. Also in the mix are Harlan's loyal nurse (Ana de Armas), who has a gag reflex anytime she tells a lie or hears a lie and doesn't identify it as such (leading to some great comic vomiting scenes spaced perfectly throughout the flick); Fran (Edi Patterson), Harlan's long-time housekeeper who's not above blackmail when she gets a key piece of information; and Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield), the police investigator who's content to let Blanc do 90 percent of the investigating.

Rian Johnson does a pretty good job juggling all of these characters and character types. But if you are a fan of Curtis or Shannon or Evans or Don Johnson or any of the others, there's probably not going to be enough screen time to satisfy you as the fan of the individual as they are all supporting players. Not even Craig is as hugely central to this movie as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot are to their films. It's really the story that's the star here and, to be fair, de Armas is ultimately give the most to play with considering her gag reflex is a great tool for both Blanc and the film's writer-director to use throughout.

There is a lot of enjoyment to be had in "Knives Out." It's not especially deep. And some may bristle when Johnson works in modern issues like illegal immigration and the country's red-blue political divide into the character and world-building here. But it is indeed that rare mystery you may want to revisit in the future, even knowing what you know after you see it. I give it a 7 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed Nov. 13, 2019 / Posted Nov. 27, 2019


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