‘Knives Out’ is a gem (spoiler-free review!)

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For Knives Out, no preamble is necessary. If you’re even moderately familiar with this holiday movie slate, then chances are you’re aware of the overwhelming hype Rian Johnson’s whodunnit has received. I’m happy to report it’s just as great as everything you’ve heard. 

Daniel Craig is playing way against type as eccentric detective Benoit Blanc, who’s investigating the Thrombey family after their mystery-novel magnate father Harlan (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his study under suspicious circumstances. The Thrombeys are very similar to the Roys from the excellent HBO series Succession, that is to say very rich, very entitled, and very competitive. Standouts are Jamie Lee Curtis as Linda, Harlan’s daughter and seemingly his favorite of his direct descendants, and Toni Collette as Joni, a wannabe new-age earth mother type. 

The actual lead of the picture, however, is Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera. Marta is Harlan’s longtime household assistant and nurse, and she becomes more and more central to the mystery surrounding his death as the film swerves around multiple red herrings and twists.

What I love so much about Knives Out is that it takes its time, and yet it still feels like it was shot out of a cannon. It’s the type of film that respects its audience enough to pick up on what may seem like obtuse clues, because to hold your hand would be to ruin the fun. There were several moments in the first half where I wondered why the film was spending so much time on certain things, but all of those things ended up being essential to the mystery and themes of the movie. 

The knives truly come out once it’s made abundantly clear how much Harlan held Marta in high esteem. Though they say she’s a part of the family, a line is drawn in the sand around the hallway point of the film between the Thrombeys and Marta. 

Marta and Blanc are forced to work backwards from their separate conclusions, and they eventually discover the truth together. It’s not until Blanc puts all the seemingly disparate pieces together that the movie fully synthesizes into a complete artistic statement. That’s not a criticism, that’s a compliment. I love films that are unpredictable in the sense that the director’s vision isn’t just stated minute one. Again, the film takes its time, but the fun of the ride justifies that.

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Craig and de Armas are both brilliant here, de Armas’ grounded performance providing the perfect foil to Craig’s scenery-chewing shenanigans. But even this key pillar of the movie doesn’t fully materialize until the halfway mark. Rian Johnson proves once again how disciplined a screenwriter should be when blending a complex narrative with perhaps even more complex themes.

The overall message is the big thing I don’t want to spoil, and the marketing has done a tremendous job of not revealing it. That message feels so organic and earned here — no lectures, just a great story with a good heart.

See this movie as soon as possible. What a treat!

-George Napper

‘Knives Out’ will be released everywhere in the US on November 27

2hr, 10min; Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material

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