Friday Flicks November 29: “Knives Out”

M.V. MoorheadNovember 2019
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Knives Out—Remember those facetious mysteries of the ‘70s, like Murder by Death or Sleuth; the sort of thing that unfolds mostly in one old-dark-house setting, with scherzo strings or tinkling harpsichord on the soundtrack? If so, you may feel a special nostalgic pull from this goofball all-star ensemble whodunit from writer-director Rian Johnson.

The story concerns Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) a rich mystery writer living in a cluttered rattletrap Massachusetts manse with a bunch of his kids and in-laws and grandkids. This largely parasitical brood includes the likes of Jamie Leigh Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Don Johnson and Katherine Langford. About the only person in the house who Harlan seems to regard as worth his time is his young paragon of a nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who comes from a South American country, though everyone has a different idea of which one. When the old man is found with his throat cut one morning, a seedily genteel southerner of a private detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), is brought in to consult with the police.

As might be guessed by the cast, which also includes newcomers like Jaeden Martell and Lakeith Stanfield and vets like M. Emmet Walsh, Frank Oz and K Callan, Knives Out is full of delicious performances. And Johnson’s script is epigrammatic and full of admirable invention, like upright Marta’s Pavlovian inability to tell a lie. This proves very inconvenient for her as it becomes clear that she knows what happened to old Harlan, and must try to hide it from Blanc, who has adopted her as his Watson on the case.

The movie is probably a little too long, as Johnson can’t resist piling on more and more preposterous convolutions. But the atmosphere and acting made it hard for me to decide what I’d want him to cut from it, and Ana de Armas (Cuban in real life, by the way), essentially the leading lady in this star-studded company, is an enchantingly sympathetic heroine, so unable not to be a decent person that we’d be willing to let her get away with murder.

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