Remember those old-school all-star whodunit movies that were popular in the 1970s and 80s, like “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Clue,” “The Mirror Crack’d” and “Murder by Death?” You don’t see those much anymore. The last one my movie-loving daughter and I recall is the 2017 remake of “Orient Express.”
What I love about those movies, besides the fabulous clothes, is that usually only one or two people are dispatched in a not-too-gruesome manner. These days audiences seem to require a bloodbath. Yours truly prefers her murders less icky and preferably offstage.
The box office hit “Knives Out” (PG-13) is a throwback and an update to those classic whodunits where the stars matter more than the body count. And it’s actually not a straight-up whodunit as we know how 85-year old mystery novelist Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer) dies, early in the film… or do we?
Thrombley leaves behind a slew of disgruntled family members who, wait for it, may have something to gain from his demise, namely gobs and gobs of money. His daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), seems to be the most affected by dad’s death and the least likely to have done the deed (oooh does that mean she’s the most guilty?). Harlan has dirt on her husband Richard (Don Johnson, looking quite dashing), and the dearly departed had just fired his son Walt (Michael Shannon) from the family publishing company. Daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette) is a new age Internet influencer and she and her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford) are supported by Harlan’s checkbook. None other than Captain America himself (Chris Evans) plays Linda and Richard’s black sheep son, Ransom, who is also living off Harlan’s fortune.
Is it any wonder that Harlan prefers the company of his charming and attentive nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). She has nothing to gain from his death… or does she?
Even though Harlan’s death appears to be a straight-up suicide, it attracts the mysterious Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), sporting a Cajunish accent in this clearly New England setting. Blanc instantly enlists the aid of Marta, implying that she is least likely to have offed the author. And we know what that means… or do we?
“Knives Out” is extremely entertaining, witty and smart. Writer/director Rian Johnson, best known for directing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” clearly enjoys this neglected genre and wants his audience to have a good time. Harlan’s gothic mansion is stuffed with creepy paintings, weapons, ornate furniture and yes, secret passages in a delightful homage to just about every Agatha Christie film adaptation. Johnson also manages a dig or two at this white privileged clan and their pandering attitude toward immigrants. I wish he had put as much thought into character development as he did to the plot and the look of “Knives Out.” I would have liked a bit more insight into Linda and Richard’s marriage, Walt’s frustration at work and Ransom’s neer-do-wellness. And, while Daniel Craig is obviously enjoying this non-Bond role, the script provides nearly zero backstory on his character, like why is he talking with that weird accent? Maybe those questions will be answered in the sequel, which is apparently already in the works.
Knives Out: 4 out of 5 Stars
Binge Along with Amanda...
Amanda doesn’t binge a TV series too often. She is after all, quite busy and there are just so many things to watch on the roughly 4,123 streaming services. But seeing Toni Collette in “Knives Out” reminded me to remind you to check out the series “Unbelievable” on Netflix. The riveting drama is based on a true story reported in ProPublica in 2015 about Marie, a teenager in the foster system who was raped in her Washington apartment, reported the attack, and was convinced to take back her report. Years later, two female detectives pursuing a rapist in Colorado, track down Marie and discover how badly the system betrayed her, while allowing her attacker to go free and continue his crimes.
“Unbelievable” is outstanding on every level from its gripping story and tight direction to the acting of Kaitlyn Dever as Marie and Collette and Merritt Wever as the detectives. Every minute feels real, every move the detectives make, authentic. The rapist gets almost no screen time, with the focus on the victims and the detectives’ determination to bring this man to justice. “Unbelievable” will enthrall you and anger you and it will stay with you long after you finish watching, binge or not.
Unbelievable: 5 out of 5 Stars