In a crowded year for films, “Knives Out” may be the finest of all. Whip-smart, shocking, beautifully acted and perfectly paced, this film offers a cinematic experience like no other this year. Shying away from the bombast of blockbusters yet still featuring a cast of major stars and coming from a completely original story by director/writer/producer Rian Johnson, “Knives Out” is a breath of fresh air for the film industry.
Christopher Plummer (“The Sound of Music”) plays Harlan Thrombey, a millionaire novelist known for his popular mystery books. After Thrombey is found dead of an apparent suicide, the Thrombey family gathers at his estate for the funeral. While the case may seem fairly cut and dry, the family is visited by two police officers, played by Lakeith Stanfield (“Get Out”) and Noah Segan, and the world-famous private investigator Benoit Blanc, played to absolute perfection by James Bond himself: Daniel Craig. Blanc suspects there may be more to Thrombey’s death than meets the eye, and so begins an intricate mystery filled with twists and surprises.
The ensemble cast Johnson was able to put together for this film is simply stellar. Craig is brilliant as Detective Blanc, delivering one of my favorite performances of the year. His strong southern drawl and old-fashioned bearing make him instantly likeable and prove the amazing range Craig has as an actor.
Still, while Craig’s performance often steals the show, he is not the real main character of the film. Instead, we mostly follow the story of Thrombey’s nurse Marta Cabrera, played by relatively unknown Cuban actress Ana de Armas. While it was surprising at first to learn that Craig was not the star, as the film’s marketing appeared to present him, it was by no means a disappointment. De Armas is so kind, sweet and positive as Cabrera that it is impossible not to like her every bit as much as Craig. With this being her first leading role in a mainstream film, I cannot wait to see more of de Armas in the future.
The remainder of the Thrombey family is a treasure trove of talent. In the role of Harlan’s daughter Linda is Jamie Lee Curtis, known for her roles in such films as “Halloween,” “Trading Places” and “Freaky Friday.” Linda’s husband, Richard, is played by Don Johnson, star of “Miami Vice” and currently featured in HBO’s “Watchmen.” Their son, Ransom, is none other than Chris Evans, known best for his role as Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Also in the Thrombey family is Harlan’s son Walt, played by Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”), Walt’s wife Donna, played by Riki Lindhome (“Garfunkel and Oates”) and their son Jacob, played by Jaeden Martell (“It”). Finally, we have Harlan’s daughter-in-law Joni, played by Toni Collette (“Hereditary”), and her daughter Meg, played by Katherine Langford (“13 Reasons Why”). Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda, Cookie Monster and Miss Piggy, even makes a brief cameo as Harlan Thrombey’s attorney.
Even with so many characters to juggle, none of these actors feel underutilized. Johnson’s script is carefully crafted to ensure that every character gets their time to shine and is able to come across with a distinct, memorable personality, something helped greatly by the terrific performances of the incredible cast.
While the cast is undeniably a major strength of the film, it is far from the only thing “Knives Out” has going for it. The story itself is richly told, standing alongside the very best of the genre from the likes of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The structure of the film is unlike any other mystery I have seen, revealing what appear to be major answers early on only to completely subvert what you think you know later on. This strategy of mysteries within mysteries proves to be very effective and is what keeps the film so engaging for its full runtime of 130 minutes.
Unfortunately, apart from my earlier summary of the film’s premise, I cannot reveal any more about the plot without giving away major spoilers. What I can say is that the film’s basic themes are part of what makes it stand apart from other mystery stories I have seen in print or on screen. The film is, in its very essence, deeply political. We have all heard the old jokes about heated political talk with your extended family over Thanksgiving dinner. Now imagine that same atmosphere but with the tension ramped up to an eleven.
A few timely political topics are broached, but none so much as the highly controversial issue of immigration. The character Marta is an immigrant from Latin America, and much of her story deals with how this aspect of her life affects her family and how other people perceive her. The film is written from an angle clearly sympathetic to the plight of immigrants, showing immigrants as people instead of political props.
At this time of year, movie theaters are crowded with major awards contenders, and it can become difficult to decide what is and is not worth seeing. If you go to see one film this holiday season, it should be “Knives Out.” Not only will it entertain you, but it will also make you think, not just about the political issues raised but also about your own family and responsibilities as part of a family. For a film released during the holidays, there couldn’t be a better topic to consider. Do yourself a favor and get your ticket to “Knives Out” soon.
Thumbnail photo courtesy of @knivesout Instagram.
Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.