PUBLISHED February 24th, 2020 06:30 am | UPDATED June 3rd, 2020 12:15 am
In Rian Johnson’s razor-sharp whodunit Knives Out, the only decent people are the murdered man – and his alleged murderess. A wacky homage to Agatha Christie from the director of Breaking Bad and The Last Jedi, this murder mystery centres around an uber-rich American novelist, his snotty pack of freeloading relatives, and the immigrant nurse they’ve taken into their midst. When this patriarch is found with his throat slit, the knives of class and race prejudice come out in terrifically nasty style.
Agatha Christie was the undisputed queen of marrying brain-cracking puzzles with keen social critique, and Johnson does her proud with a satire for our post-Trump times. The setting: a luxe McMansion owned by famed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who’s found dead the morning after his 85th birthday party. The verdict: suicide – at least until cigar-smoking sleuth Benoit Blanc (a very handsome Daniel Craig) starts digging into the past grudges lurking beneath the polished family facade. Because blood ain’t thicker than money, not when millions are up for grabs.
At the heart of it all is Harlan’s nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), a doe-eyed immigrant with a fatal flaw: she can’t lie without puking. As the deceased’s only close confidante, she knows more about the family’s secrets than is good for her. For one, there’s Harlan’s son-in-law Richard (Don Johnson), a self-righteous playboy caught sleeping around by his father-in-law.
Meanwhile, incompetent son Walter (Michael Shannon) has his own axe to grind – his father just fired him from the publishing company he helmed. Then there’s daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), a lifestyle guru who oozes hippy vibes – till she’s found tricking Harlan into paying her daughter’s allowance twice over. In short, this snobbish clan turns out quite the morally dubious den of money-grubbers, all of whom might have knives out for the patriarch as he threatens to cut off their cash supply.
Into this gleeful takedown of upper-crust smugness, Johnson weaves in sharp digs at a privileged brand of casual racism that’ll make you cringe with its familiarity. Each family member bestows showy hugs upon Marta and constantly assures her she’s ‘part of the family’, but can never remember just which South American country she comes from. In a lengthy rant on illegal immigrants, Richard declares them moochers who should ‘earn their way from the ground up’ – deaf to the irony of preaching to a family that happily milks daddy’s moolah. And when things go deadly awry, it’s Marta whom the family – Trump fans and woke liberals alike – are more than willing to carve up.
With an all-star cast and a sumptuous set (including a throne-like chair haloed with knives), Knives Out is delicious to watch even if you’re not one for cudgeling your brains to solve the mystery. By the end of this rollicking ride, only half the pleasure comes from finding the real killer (who, like the best whodunits, has been right under our noses all this time). The other half comes from watching this band of bigots get their comeuppance, served sweet by an immigrant who finally comes into her own. We recommend cutting yourself a slice.
All photos courtesy of Lionsgate