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Reviews

TIFF 2019: Knives Out – Review

By Mary Beth McAndrews / @mbmcandrews

‘There is something afoot’ says Benoit Blanc, a world-famous private investigator. The words pour out of his mouth like molasses, slow and sweet. He sounds like someone from Louisiana or Georgia, a Southern gentleman with a penchant for civility, and he is played by Daniel Craig.

The smooth-talking detective is only one of the eclectic characters in Rian Johnson’s (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) latest film, Knives Out. It is a hilarious and clever murder mystery that would make Agatha Christie gasp.

The day after his 85th birthday, prolific murder mystery writer Harlan Thrombey is found dead in his study with his throat slit. At first, it is ruled as suicide, but one week after his death, Blanc and Lieutenant Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) gather the entire family at the estate to go over the events once more.

Blanc was hired by an unknown client who delivered a newspaper clipping and a wad of cash to his door. He begins questioning each and every family member to piece together the mystery, and find out who killed Thrombey.

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Thrombey’s books raked in a massive fortune. The family estate is massive, and as Lt. Elliott says, looks like something from a Cluedo board. It is full of hidden doors, fake windows, and freaky stairs that lend themselves well to secrets.

The Thrombey family descend on the manor with their varying degrees of unpleasantness. There are two living children, Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), who is married to Richard (Don Johnson), and Walt (Michael Shannon), who is married to Donna (Riki Lindhome).

There is also Joni (Toni Collette), the widow of the deceased Thrombey son, Mitch. They, along with their children, saunter into the house ready to perform their grief and await their inheritance.

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There is also Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who was hired to take care of him, and really just be his friend.

She is always told she is part of the family, but she wasn’t invited to the wedding, and is always kept on the periphery of any conversation after Harlan’s death.

She is used by the Thrombeys as a token Latina woman to make them look woke, a person they use to make themselves look better. But how long can you keep up those pretences before the mask slips?

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While revealing more of the plot would ruin Knives Out’s fun, I will say that it is intensely political and speaks loudly about contemporary issues ranging from immigration to social media addiction.

It is a film very much of the current cultural climate, pulling together a handful of threads to weave a fascinating whodunnit that keeps you guessing until the very end.

While that may easily date the film and keep it from future relevancy, it works as a cultural artefact of the issues and things we’ve chosen to obsess over in 2019.

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The entire cast fits together like a puzzle, all locking into their designated places to create a beautiful finished product that is extremely satisfying.

Each member of the family plays their stereotypical rich person part with an over-the-top flourish which renders them all the more ridiculous.

A particular favourite is Collete as lifestyle guru Joni. She emanates the energy of any follower of Gwenyth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop, speaking about the power of crystals and chakra, while also telling everyone to drop her a DM on Instagram. She is the faux-woke rich woman that makes your skin crawl, and Collette plays it perfectly.

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But the stand-out performances don’t come from within the family. Instead, de Armas and Craig steal the show, playing two outsiders who must navigate the maze that is the Thrombeys.

De Armas at first seems meek, a quiet woman who does her best to avoid the family’s attention. She nods her head obediently at everyone no matter how ludicrous their remarks. But, de Armas is able to build off that meekness to create a complex character who knows what she needs to do to survive.

Opposite de Armas is the extremely charming, blue-eyed beauty that is Craig, by way of Christie’s Hercule Poirot. He is eccentric, sharp, and hilarious as he darts across the frame, examining minuscule clues and waxing poetics about motive. The two together give the film its charming and intelligent core.

The script, written by Johnson, deftly melds together comedy and politics, often used to humiliate the wealthy characters. One particular running gag is based around Marta’s country of origin.

Each time someone talks to Marta, they reference a different South American country as if they are all the same. First Marta is from Paraguay, then Uruguay, then Brazil; to them, her actual ethnicity is trivial because they speak Spanish there anyway, right?

These more subtle moments imbue a sense of disgust with the rich and their inability to actually listen to others. It also emphasises their surface-level liberalism.

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These jokes run throughout Knives Out, creating both an entertaining whodunnit and cutting commentary on the wealthy elite.

Johnson moved from lightsabers to knives with his latest movie, and shows that he can work with a diverse range of material.

The star-studded cast will attract viewers, but the captivating mystery will enchant them even more. Get ready to investigate because in Knives Out there is something certainly afoot, but not in the way you’d expect.

★★★★★

Knives Out will be released in UK cinemas 29th November.

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