Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, a stressful mix of good food, family dysfunction, and bullshit historical narratives. (Football and parades, too, if that’s your jam. FWIW, today also happens to be my birthday, and as you read this, I may very well be eating birthday cake instead of pumpkin pie. The sacrilege of it all.) Now when it comes to holiday movies, Thanksgiving obviously isn’t big business, not like Christmas. Still, there are a few films that might work well for annual viewings. You’re Next. Addams Family Values. Ready or Not, maybe. And . . . okay, that might be all I got.
. . . or all I had, anyway. Until now.
Comrades, collaborators, potential enemies: may I present to you Knives Out.
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Actual Goddamn Theater
Spoilers: Not until the clearly marked Spoiler Section
Vague Summary Shamelessly Stolen From IMDb: A detective investigates the death of a patriarch of an eccentric, combative family.
1. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Knives Out for a really long time now, at least a year, easy. I’m a big fan of Rian Johnson’s filmography; even when his movies don’t fully work for me, I still find them engaging and entertaining and just really interesting in how they play with genre tropes and structure. When I realized Johnson was writing and directing, essentially, an American country manor mystery? I was in. When I saw the cast? Holy Jesus, I was dying. Understandably, I was a bit nervous about my own expectations going into this film.
Fortunately, I really enjoyed the movie! At first, it seems pretty obvious which way the story is going (and, truthfully, one or two reveals remain a bit predictable), but then the movie makes a turn early on that I wasn’t expecting, and at that point, it’s like a whole new ballgame. At its core, Knives Out is a very playful film: the twists aren’t huge, necessarily, but it still subverts expectations. There’s a surprising thread of social commentary throughout, and also, it’s just really funny. Fellow fans of Clue, I think, might really like this one. Maybe Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, too.
2. So, that cast I mentioned? I mean, holy shit:
Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Don Johnson, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer, LaKeith Stanfield, Jaeden Martell, Riki Lindhome, and Frank Oz–on screen, even?
Like, Jesus. That’s a lot of star power in the room.
I do think there’s a bit of a cast imbalance in this movie. Certain characters, heavily prominent in the first half of the film, get dropped later on, and I’m not certain every character really needs to be in this movie. Jacob (Martell), for instance, is really only important for one scene, and honestly, I don’t even know why Donna (Lindhome) is here at all. I also wouldn’t have minded seeing LaKeith Stanfield get a little more to do, too.
OTOH, there’s seriously not a bad performance in the bunch. Special acting kudos go to Ana de Armas, who carries the film beautifully, Chris Evans and Daniel Craig, who both delightfully play against type, and Jamie Lee Curtis, mostly just for being awesome. Oh, and Christopher Plummer, too. I quite like him in this.
3. Honestly, I’m not sure what else I can say about Knives Out without spoilers. Instead, let me just give you a list of random words that may mean more to you once you watch the film.
The New Yorker
With that completed, let us begin with the Spoilers. (Like, ALL the Spoilers, people. Please watch the movie first. I genuinely think you’ll enjoy it more that way.)
So. I got some of it right.
The second I realized our dead patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), was a mystery writer, I was like, Oh, no. Oh, no, he did it. He either killed himself in some kind of spiteful revenge game (because he’s secretly as terrible as the rest of his family), or he’s concocted some elaborate scheme to see if Marta is truly worthy of his money. And he’s probably not actually dead. Or maybe, but only because he was secretly terminally ill, anyway. Either way, yeah. He did it.
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t thrilled about any of this. Still, I was having enough fun, even in the first fifteen minutes, that I decided to let it go. The best mysteries are unpredictable, sure, but I’ve liked plenty of mysteries when I totally saw the end coming. Predictability doesn’t necessarily ruin the show for me, even in a whodunnit.
Then things took a big turn: we watched Harlan commit suicide after Marta supposedly overdosed him with morphine. This happens pretty early in the movie, and it was super interesting to watch our story transition from “traditional whodunnit” into, IDK, “comedic post crime caper?” Of course, it was pretty obvious there was more to the story, and not just because someone was blackmailing Marta. I was about 99.9% sure the med vials had been switched, meaning Marta hadn’t given Harlan the morphine at all . . . except instead of realizing Ransom had tampered with them, I thought Harlan had done something when he’d flipped the Go board. I was also leaning towards Harlan being secretly alive because of the prop knife line; I spent the whole goddamn movie waiting for that line to pay off. (It did, beautifully.) What’s kinda hilarious, though, is that I actually missed the beginning of said line, which meant I had no idea it was specifically Ransom who couldn’t differentiate between a prop knife and a real knife. Alas. You miss, like, one word, and you end up drawing the wrong conclusions.
Ultimately, I guessed that Harlan and Ransom were working together (which was what I assumed their secret fight was about), rather than Ransom being the Sole Evil Mastermind. I did get that it was Ransom who wrote Blanc, but definitely for the wrong reasons. And Ransom’s involvement itself seemed pretty obvious, mostly because the rest of the family heavily drops out of the story in the second half of the film. I mean, they’re still there, sure, but in more of a background “we’re scheming to get our money” way, not, like, as real players making plot-relevant actions. Structurally, that kind of works because Ransom himself isn’t in the first half of the film, so it’s almost like he switches places with his family. Narratively, however, it pretty much eliminates almost everyone else in the cast from being legitimate suspects. Also, it’s just a little disappointing because, again, this is a fantastic cast. I was probably most bummed about Jamie Lee Curtis; she is sharp as hell in this film, and I would’ve enjoyed seeing more of her.
The cast imbalance is probably my biggest criticism of the movie, but it’s pretty easy to forgive because the story is just so damn entertaining. There are so many little moments I like, moments I know I’m forgetting now. Let’s see. The opening and closing shots with the coffee mug. The fact that no one in this awful family can remember where Marta’s family originally comes from. Richard (Don Johnson) quoting Hamilton–oh, it’s just as cringeworthy as you’re thinking. The donut hole monologue. CSI: KFC. The “eat shit” scene. Marta throwing up right on Ransom’s face. (I knew she was gonna puke the second she answered the phone, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be all over Chris Evans, oh my God.) The part where Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) is all, “I’m not stupid enough to attack my family in front of the cops,” which is immediately followed by Richard, her husband, being exactly that stupid. And I really like the scenes with Linda and her invisible ink letters, too; while she’s just as awful as the rest of her family, you also get the sense that she might be the only person besides Marta who’s actually grieving for Harlan. It’s a small thing, but I really liked that. I really liked all of it, honestly; it’s a pretty great film.
Witty and wildly enjoyable.
Ana de Armas, but Daniel Craig was certainly a strong contender.
Don’t be a rich dipshit motherfucker.
At least try going to the hospital before deciding, no, it’s doomed, I will save my friend from a medical malpractice charge by quickly plotting an escape route and slicing open my own fucking throat.
If you’re a nurse, maybe double check those vials before injecting anyone? Like, mistakes happen, I get that, but let me be real here: my actual biggest problem with this movie is when Blanc tries to prove Marta’s a good nurse by showing how she instinctually used the right medication, despite it being labelled incorrectly. And I’m like, honey, no, because one, I really don’t need to be sold on Marta’s virtue here; this is completely unnecessary, and two) a good nurse doesn’t need to sense her medicine; a good nurse would check the fucking vials. FFS.