Knives Out - Professor Plum, in the library, with a knife

Knives Out is a modern-day whodunit tracing its lineage to the mysteries of Agatha Christie, but placed squarely in the era of Trump. Released at the end of 2019, it is now available on Amazon Prime. It's Murder on the Orient Express meets Downton Abbey but in rustic 21st century New England rather than early 20th century England.


Boasting an impressive ensemble cast, Knives Out begins with the murder in a palatial house (of course) of rich (doubly of course) crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, the witheringly handsome Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music (1965), now at real life 90 playing a spry 85 year old), who is found with his throat slit by a knife. As the police interview each of the family members and staff, like any good whodunit, every single one of them has a motive for the murder, and is thus a suspect. Enter detective Benoit Blanc, a clean shaven Hercule Poirot, played with exaggerated Southern charm and drawl by, in a delicious bit of casting, Daniel Craig. To see the coldly cruel and suave British agent James Bond transformed into a Southern gentleman is a treat in itself. Then there's Harlan's daughter, Linda Drysdale (the evergreen Jamie Lee Curtis) - boy do I, and a dazed Arnold Schwarzenegger, remember her from that seduction scene in True Lies (1994) and also as the libidinous titular character in A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Her husband Richard is played by the even more evergreen Don Johnson, who was the uber cool Detective Sonny Crockett in the ultra stylish 80s TV series that captured that era's zeitgeist, Miami Vice. Their son Hugh "Ransom" Drysdale is played by Captain America himself, Chris Evans. Harlan's son is played by the superb Michael Shannon who did a great job as the villainous colonel in The Shape of Water (2017). Harlan's daughter-in-law, Joni Thrombey, is the wonderful Toni Collette, who has been doing great roles in movies too numerous to mention, but most famously as the mother of the child who sees "dead people" in The Sixth Sense (1999). And then there's Harlan's nurse and confidant Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), whose country of origin is a running gag. Her unique gift, if one may call it that, is that in the wonderful words of Detective Blanc, "she has a regurgitative reflex to mis-truthing". In simple English, she vomits whenever she lies. There is also a cameo from, as Harlan's lawyer Stevens, Frank Oz, none other than Yoda from the Star Wars franchise. That should not be a mystery because the director, Rian Johnson, who is also the writer, and has done a great job at both, also directed Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). As a Star Wars fanboy, what else could one ask.


There are enough twists and turns and points of view as varied and reliable or unreliable as the cast of characters to keep the mystery lover in you occupied, as you try to solve the mystery yourself in real time before the detective does in movie time. What elevates Knives Out from your run-of-the-mill murder mystery though is its smartly sly look at class warfare, social and income inequality, the liberal vs conservative divide roiling the country epitomized by the issue of immigration, and of course, white privilege. When one such raucous debate turns to "children being locked in cages", you have no doubt as to the chronological setting, and the everlasting stain those images left on the soul of a nation ruled by an imperial, nationalistic, nativist President with zero empathy. That's where Knives Out is a dagger to the heart.


July 2, 2020

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