Harland Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), wealthy and popular writer of crime fiction, is found dead the day after its 85th birthday. There are three things you must know about Harlan: his family seems to have just jumped out of the pages of an Agatha Christie’s novel; his Massachusetts mansion is filled with knives, half of them props, half of them real; and he has most likely committed suicide. If the first two points might seem a good start to get to the third, none of them explains why there is a private investigator (Daniel Craig) lurking around the house. It is okay not to know much beforehand, though. After all, ‘Knives Out’ is a murder mystery. All the elements of a true classic are present: the beautiful, ancient mansion, the rich family kept together by lies. Everything happened “at last night’s party”, although it is hard to reconstruct a timeline since “everyone was there”.
What sets it apart from the crowd is that ‘Knives Out’ is a 2019 murder mystery and, in that respect, it is quite unique. It is a precious example of a movie that not only acknowledges the world around it, but it is also able to give said world an authentic representation on the big screen. One would say a modern twist might undermine the atmosphere – after all, we are used to much more old-fashioned, almost nostalgic settings for this genre – while the final result is actually the very opposite. We must not forget that locking a bunch or strangers in snowed-in hotel or forcing an estranged family to live under the same roof for a day is the best – if not most effective – way to create a micro-society, with all its social and cultural issues, its flaws and contradictions. This is something murder mysteries have always been particularly good at. When picturing ‘Knives Out’, think of ‘Gosford Park’, and add Trump to the mix. Think of racist jokes you have probably heard, of annoying people you might have met. They even throw in musical references a mass audience will actually understand.
Most importantly, though, be prepared to fall in love with ‘Knives Out’. It knows the rules of the game and, more than that, it knows you know the rules as well, so it will do anything in its power to mess with this certainty. This is a murder mystery where a crime novelist kills himself, starting his own personal murder mystery. Everything seems to remind us we are up against a master of the genre, someone who keeps blurring the line between reality and fiction. The house? Bought and refurbished to resemble the typical ‘murder house’ on purpose. The detective? The parody of a genius. Or, the parody of the parody of a genius. The comforting narrative structure is taken apart piece by piece, just like the status quo of the family unit. Clues are staged and fake weapons become actual clues, “until you can’t tell the difference between a stage prop and a real knife.”
Nothing can prevent you from enjoying this film, and you don’t have to be a crime addict to do that. There is something in for everyone: this movie is too rich in themes, characters, cast performances, set design and even soundtrack to disappoint. And yet, if you have spent most of your life falling for a lying suspect, trusting the wrong detective, and staring in disbelief at the final gunshot, this movie might be exactly what you have been waiting for. ‘Knives Out’ brought me home. Once again, I was that 12-year-old watching Vera Claythorne walking away from the shore, or witnessing the very first killings at Badger’s Drift. And I was not getting off the damn train until I found out ‘whodunnit’.
‘Knives Out’ is available on DVD and digital release from the 30th of March.
Note: if you have already watched the movie and you are debating whether to buy the DVD or not, please take a moment to remember the plate scene. Would you honestly not give your money to the plate scene? Yeah, I thought so.