FILMS… Knives Out (2019)

#2010s

 

Every member of Harlan Thrombey’s family is unhappy in their own way…

 

Christopher Plummer’s character is discovered to be murdered on his 85th birthday, as the enigmatic Southern sleuth Benoit Blanc investigates.

 

Knives Out (2019 Movie) Official Trailer — Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lionsgate Pictures

 

The celebrated Canadian actor, Christopher Plummer passed away in 2021 leaving a legacy of theatre, film and TV work. For many his most loved role – although it seems not for him – was as a widowed Naval Captain with seven children who falls in love with his kids’ nanny (but spoiler, it’s complicated as he’s engaged and she’s a nun) in the musical, The Sound of Music (1965).

This Canadian actor’s versatile roles were seen as an actor, narrator and voice actor in an impressive 217 film and TV appearances in all kinds of genres. Roles within these genres included a Klingon with a passion for quoting Shakespeare in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country (1991), real-life figures such as Rudyard Kipling in The Man Who Would be King (1976) and fictional Archbishops in the mini-series, The Thorn Birds (1983) and a pivotal role in the time travelling romance, Somewhere in Time (1980).

He also starred in a number of mystery whodunnits. He took on the role of the well-known fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes in Murder by Decree (1979) where he tracked down the real-life Jack the Ripper in this fact meets fiction tale. In an Agatha Christie murder mystery, he played the victim’s husband – and a murder suspect – in Ordeal by Innocence (1984) in an all-star cast including Donald Sutherland and Ian McShane. Plummer completed those three possible acting roles in a whodunnit movie, as in his penultimate role Knives Out (2019) he played a possible murder victim.

Knives Out tells of the aftermath after an elderly family patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is discovered dead the morning after his 85th birthday celebrations. A Southern detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) joins those investigating this apparent open and shut case. However, Blanc then reveals he was asked anonymously to investigate Harlan’s death. It seems someone believes Harlan’s “suicide” masked a murder most foul.

It seems that this man was loved by his family and household staff. But flashbacks show that many of the members of the dysfunctional family Thrombey had an axe to grind with Harlan, who was a successful and wealthy publisher and crime writer before his death. The Thrombey clan’s behaviours as seen in flashbacks also suggest they have a similar lack of tolerance for each other, and it’s literally Knives Out. In comparison to this family, the infights of The Ewings and Barnes families in Dallas (1978-91), the Carrington clan in Dynasty (1981-89) and The Colbys (1985-87) look more like the more wholesome TV family, The Waltons (1972-81).

Like those Agatha Christie movies I adore, Harlan Thrombey’s home is full of suspects. There are a few characters thrown into this enigmatic mix just to add to your suspicions and to chew scenery with the best of them. There is a captivating script filled with red herrings of all sorts (and that’s all I will say) and to my delight, this twisty-turny story is played out by a solid all-star acting cast.

As Harlan’s “suicide” becomes a murder investigation it is commandeered by a charismatic, famous detective with a distinctive accent. Enter “The Last of the Gentleman Sleuths”, the celebrated Southerner, Benoit Blanc. This character is played with panache and flair and surprisingly not by the Texan, Matthew McConaughey but by the British actor who last played James Bond, Daniel Craig. This Southern detective with the “Kentucky Fried Foghorn Leghorn Drawl” – to quote one character – is an affectionate homage to Peter Ustinov as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.

Knives Out starts with a view of an imposing gothic country house and this cinematic shot is accompanied by some eerie violin music. We are kind of greeted by two fierce dogs who run towards us in slow motion. This eerie setting is the home of Harlan Thrombey, the patriarch of the Thrombey dynasty. His home contains some spooky dolls and ornaments and a portrait of well.. the Christopher Plummer lookalike, Harlan Thrombey who is a rich celebrated crime novelist.

It’s then the morning after Harlan’s 85th birthday celebrations, when his family joined him to celebrate this big day with a party. Harlan’s housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) takes him his breakfast and after climbing up a lot of staircases, she finds Harlan lying dead on the sofa. His death appears to be caused by a slit throat. On first appearances, it seems like an apparent successful suicide.

The film then flashforwards to a week later. Harlan’s young nurse and confidente, the South American, Marta (Ana De Armas) is asked by his son, Walt to come to the Thrombey house. It seems that Harlan’s death is now a police matter. Marta lives with her sister and mother, Alice (Marlene Forte), who is an illegal immigrant. On her arrival at the Thrombey country house, Marta is greeted by Meg (Katherine Langford), Harlan’s granddaughter and still shaken, Marta is reassured by the family that the family will take care of her. Marta seems much loved by this clan.

Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (not Michael Cera, but Noah Segan) are at Harlan’s home and are asking questions. They have been joined by an enigmatic and famous Private Investigator, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Blanc has asked to join them in a consulting role. Then as the family members are interrogated with a gratuitous portion of red herrings, twists and turns and plotlines galore, the events leading to Harlen’s death are recreated for the viewer in glorious flashbacks as the family’s reported “facts” seem more fictitious.

As we discover more information from each of the questioned family members, we learn that some of his surviving family had motives to kill for… as we meet Linda Drysdale, Harlan’s daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis), her husband Richard (Don Johnson), her wee brother Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon) and Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), the widow of Neil Thrombey, Harlan’s son. Blanc then causes a bit of a furore as he turns the suicide verdict for this prolific crime writer’s death on his head. It’s a dramatic moment as he confesses that he was employed by an anonymous person to investigate Harlan’s murder.

Harlan’s daughter Linda talks of her close relationship with her father. She talks of the games they played together, that only they understood. Unbeknownst to her, Harlan had also recently accused her husband and his son-in-law, Richard Drysdale of having an extramarital affair. Flashbacks show Harlan confronting Richard with photographic evidence of this fact. Harlan also shows him an envelope with a letter he had written to Linda telling her everything.

The same night as his birthday celebrations, Harlan had also effectively sacked his son Walt (Michael Shannon), from his managerial role in Harlan’s publishing house. This was after an ongoing disagreement about televising his novels. Walt seemed keen for his father to consider an offer from a certain streaming channel, which his father refused. Walt’s sacking would have been effective on the same day as Harlan’s murder. Walt’s wife Donna (Riki Lindhome) and son also attended this party.

Harlan also was heard in a shouting match with Linda and Richard’s son, the black sheep of the family, Hugh Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans). (Hugh is usually known as Ransome by his family.) Ransome then left the birthday party after their argument. Their argument was overheard by Walt and Donna’s son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell) and Harlan’s mother, Wanetta “Great Nana” Thrombey (K Callan) watched Ransom storm out and leave the party.

Harlan had also recently confronted his widowed, daughter-in-law, Joni (Toni Collette) after he had discovered that she was swindling him by her receiving additional payment for her daughter Meg’s education. Harlan then cut her off from further payments. It is more than apparent that these truths as seen in the flashbacks are at odds with the family’s accounts of their dealings with Harlen and their relationships within the family.

Marta stayed sober throughout the party as she was working and had an animated conversation with Fran about a Hallmark film whodunnit. Fran told her that she had discussed this whodunnit film with her family who work in a laboratory testing blood. After questioning Marta, Blanc learns the truth as it seems Harlan had spoken to Marta about his unscrupulous family’s behaviours before his death.

The family’s masquerades fall apart after Blanc has their motives confirmed by Marta. Marta also admitted to Blanc, her rather squeamish habit of throwing up if she tells lies. We also learn if she has a part to play in the events that led to Harlan’s death… and after being questioned by Blanc, she vomits in the bathroom…

This whodunnit, reminded me of my favourite Agatha Christie novels and films where it seems there are no redeeming characters. Christopher Plummer plays much more than his character’s corpse as we watch him in flashbacks showing this crime writer with his family and Marta in scenes. These show the true events and show his character as a fair and humourous man who is keen for his children and in-laws to be more independent.

In a nice nod to those Agatha Christie films, the flashbacks tell the reality of the characters about their last interactions with Harlan as they attempt to cover up their motives. It is the apparently honest, Marta, who tells their truths to the detective. Plummer spoke enthusiastically about this film HERE

“It’s a gorgeous spoof of all those murder mysteries of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. The script was so well written that we just trusted the words. It was very sophisticated and literate. It seduced us all to be in it and Rian did an incredible job writing it. It was simply amazing. How often do we get scripts like that in films?”

Rian Johnson wrote this mind-blowing script. This is the first of three of his film homages to those whodunnit films. The next of this trio featuring Benoit Blanc is Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). This is another all-star murder mystery tribute to The Last of Sheila (1973). In this film, the action moves to the Mediterranean, with Daniel Craig reprising his role and a cast including Dave Bautista, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson and Ethan Hawke. So keep your eyes peeled as this is coming to streaming soon.

Johnson also tributed a number of films in his script and direction in Knives Out, and you will need eyes like a Hawk to spot them as you watch this mystery. You don’t have to be a detective to spot which films Johnson – who also took a role in set design and choosing the setting – was influenced by when writing this film. So go full tilt sleuth, as you hear the sound of violin music, and then enter the opulent home of a patriarch played by Christopher Plummer. As you meet his apparently loving family, you’ll see it’s not exactly The Sound of Music but a comic murder mystery. What’s so fearsome about that?

 

Weeper Rating😦 😦😦😦😦 😦 😦😦  😦 😦/10

Handsqueeze Rating:  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂  /10

Hulk Rating:  0 /10

 


The Charismatic Christopher Plummer Blogathon 2022

This review was added to The Charismatic Christopher Plummer Blogathon. Other films with this cast include Christopher Plummer in StarcrashDreamscape, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered CountryMurder by Decree, The Lake House, International Velvet, Hanover Street and The Sound of Music. K Callan stars in American Gigolo, DallasQuantum LeapMoonlightingand This House Possessed. Ana de Armas in War Dogs. Chris Evans in Captain America Civil War. Daniel Craig in Tales from the Crypt and Spectre. Don Johnson in , Django Unchained and 1980s Hollywood Hitmakers. Jamie Lee Curtis in Charlie’s Angels, The Fog, Escape from New YorkColumbo and Halloween. Edi Patterson in Californication. Michael Shannon in The Shape of Water.


 

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23 thoughts on “FILMS… Knives Out (2019)

  1. Hi Gill, great review of a movie I really enjoyed–you are right, it harks back to those wonderful all-star 1970s and 1980s Agatha Christie films. I also LOVED The Glass Onion, not realizing that it is an homage to Last of Sheila! (Aha! Of course!!) . And your tribute to Mr. Christopher Plummer brings to mind so many roles…he was truly prolific and versatile as an actor. Applause to you and to the Christopher Plummer blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Gill! Great choice of one of Christopher Plummer’s last movies, and one of his best! With all the twists and turns, eccentric characters and humorous moments, Knives Out is a pure joy to watch. My whole family absolutely loved it, and we’re looking forward to the sequel. Great start to the blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I was enthusiastic about this film when it was first released, and it did not disappoint. (However, that incredible chair made out of knives just about stole the show!) Christopher P. was so good in this film, and I was disappointed he didn’t have more screen time.

    Thanks for the heads up on the upcoming Glass Onion mystery!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good piece, and thanks also for hosting the blogathon. We caught this at the cinema and thoroughly enjoyed it. I think part of the fun is that Plummer looks like he is having such a good time as the impish patriarch, Daniel Craig also when not stuck playing Bond.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wonderful homage to the whodunits of yesterday. I didn’t expect it to like it as much as I did — frankly, even though I loved of Rian Johnson’s high school whodunit, Brick, I didn’t think the filmmaker could pull it off. I stand corrected.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I first watched this movie when my husband and I both had Covid… we were super bored, tired of just resting and sleeping, and wanting something new to watch. Figured we’d just try Knives Out because it looked funny. Once the kids were in bed, we started it up… and ended up staying awake far past our bedtime because we were both so engrossed in it! Funny, whip-smart, and delightful in so many ways, most of which you highlight here. Excellent review!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gill, your delightful review makes me want to see this asap! Thanks in advance for the recommendation. I know I’m going to enjoy it immensely. Watching Plummer in The Man who Invented Christmas over the holidays was the perfect warm up for this film I think 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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