This was a very highly anticipated watch for me. From the steller cast to the Agatha Christie type murder mystery set up, it all boded well for a fun and interesting movie.
Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t really live up to all the potential.
Knives Out tells the story of the hunt for the killer of Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), a highly successful mystery novelist. The dastardly deed takes place at his gothic estate in the early hours of the morning, after his 85th birthday party which was attended by his rather awful family as well as the household help in the shape of his nurse and housekeeper. At first it looks like a suicide. His throat was cut and all the physical evidence points to a self-inflicted demise. But was it?
The movie opens a week after the death when the Police return to question those involved again but with someone new in tow this time in the shape of Beniot Blanc, a famous private detective played by Daniel Craig. He has been hired by an unknown person to investigate the incident to confirm whether a crime had been committed.
We learn that the family is beset by lies and that they all have different issues with each other but more importantly their aging patriarch. They are swindlers, adulterers, lazy good for nothings, with some of them very reliant on the money that is dished out by the stubborn Harlan. But it appears that he had come to a point at which he was going to ‘clean house’ so to speak, in the form of cutting off the money supply, firing family members from family run businesses and other corrective actions. The question is … did one of them kill him to stop losing their meal ticket and therefore cosy lifestyle or to free up potential business ventures?
Was it his doting daughter and her husband (Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson), or his sidelined son (Micheal Shannon), or maybe his lecherous daughter in law (Toni Collette), or even his loose cannon grandson (Chris Evans)? See what I mean by a great cast. But just because the names are well known and popular it doesn’t mean that it’s all a bunch of fluffy ducks. I thought Chris Evans was too old to play the son of Curtis and Johnson, and that parent-son relationship was one I was never really convinced by. As the character of Hugh ‘Ransom’ Thrombey Evans was fine as an individual, but being their offspring … nah. It didn’t work for me.
I’m not sure how to describe it but the movie felt odd in tone, like it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. A quirky darkly humorous take on the genre (I feel that the writing was not good enough for that) which is what I was hoping for or a straight old fashioned retelling of a classic whodunit story with serious political undertones. I know it had a contemporary setting but the modern touches felt out of place if that makes sense. What am I referring to? A political discussion that takes place at the birthday party which clearly references the immigration debate taking place in the US and the whole argument around illegal vs legal immigration. I know the movie tried to tie it into the story (via the nurse/housekeeper) in a genuine way but for me it wasn’t convincing. Maybe in another movie it would have been but not this one. However I seem to be in the minority here as I have read reviews that praise this political subversiveness.
Oh yes. A nurse that cannot tell a lie because if she does she vomits afterwards is a strange habit if ever I saw one and a plot device that is a cumbersome way to prevent the telling of untruths and expose when they are told. Her character is one that encompasses this duality of tone. The vomit thing is almost comic but she gets some of the most dramatic scenes. I don’t know – it’s just odd.
And Daniel Craig’s character – famous detective. I wasn’t sure if he was supposed to be full of crap buffon or a truly brilliant crime solver. A speech about donut holes within donut holes made me think fool, but then again he did get to the bottom of the mystery, although the truth almost got by him. It wasn’t until the very last moment that the penny dropped. You have to see the movie to understand what I mean (or maybe not – you may have a different opinion to me) but the tone felt like two separate elements, oil and water, that never really mixed well to present a cohesive whole. It’s just so hard to explain. I feel like the movie needed to decide what it wanted to be and go hard at it.
Production wise it was beautifully staged especially when the action takes place at Harlan’s mansion home. Structurally it was also interesting, nipping backwards in time to tell it’s story. I enjoyed this part of it and for the first half of the movie we do get almost an unreliable narrator perspective which I actually thought should have carried through the whole film. I did think the end was a little sloppy when – SPOILER – the killer was unmasked. Yes – it was a murder.
The explanation of my experience of Knives Out was I was entertained but never felt involved. I didn’t sit there wracking my brain trying to figure out who had done what, when and how. It seemed to be missing suspense from the majority of its duration which in this genre of film is not a good thing to be lacking. I just watched it happen and that was about it. I should have been on the edge of my seat but I stayed mentally slouching the whole time. And it wasn’t as funny as it thought it was. I never laughed. Maybe a chuckle here and there but nothing more.
All this was such a shame really cause it could have been a super fun movie that breathed new life into the genre. As it stands it was solid but lacking a definitive identity.
Rating: 3 Stars.
Watched: 1st December 2019.
(Header Image: Rene Asmussen)