Family and business mix in Knives Out, a whodunnit sleuther from director and writer Rian Johnson that spins the genre on its head by starting out with the murderer revealed.
The real story and mystery reveals itself as a parable about good vs. evil, treating your guests hospitably, and the current state of our nation.
Ana Armas stars as Marta Cabrera, a nurse with a quirk — she can’t lie without vomiting. Her tell makes her the perfect canary for Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a private detective hired to solve the murder of Cabrera’s charge, mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).
Harlan was found with his throat slashed after his 85th party. Ruled a suicide, Blanc is hired by an unknown who suspects foul play. Blanc meets the family members at Harlan’s memorial for a second round of questioning.
Each of the family members are interrogated, and each one has a damaging secret to hide from the authorities who are looking for a motive. Vignettes show Harlan giving each of his entitled and untrustworthy family members marching orders in a bid to correct their behavior.
When Blanc questions Cabrera, she gives him a rehearsed answer — the truth is, she accidentally overdosed Harlan with too much morphine after he flipped the table and mixed up the drugs at the end of a game of Go. Unable to find the naloxone that could have saved his life, Cabrera opts to call for an ambulance.
Harlan, because of his friendship with Cabrera, decides he can’t let her become a suspect of murder due to the mistake. An investigation into Cabrera would lead to the discovery of her mother being in the United States illegally. Knowing he’ll die regardless, Harlan commits suicide in order to keep the authorities from looking too deeply into his death.
His plan would have worked if not for Blanc’s hiring, and it’s up to Cabrera to keep the real truth hidden from Blanc’s eagle eyes.
When the will reveals that Harlan left everything to Cabrera, friendships, family ties, and loyalty become tested. Hearts are revealed. Through it all, Cabrera follows her morals and finally confesses what she did.
Though I spent a good chunk of the movie thinking Harlan was actually alive and testing Cabrera to see if she was worthy of the inheritance (I was so very wrong), the truth is that Knives Out isn’t just a mystery movie with a clever twist ending — it’s an examination of a country’s need for and hate towards immigrants.
The game of Go is brought up multiple times in the story, and it’s the conversation between Harlan and his nephew Hugh Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans), when Harlan mentions how good Cabrera is at the game, that leads to the true criminal.
But the game itself is a metaphor for the movie. In the game of Go, two players battle by placing white or black stones on a grid board. Pieces are taken by surrounding them.
In Knives Out, Cabrera finds herself surrounded by the Thrombey family who swear their fealty, love, and respect for her in order to get what they want now that she holds all the cards. But each is given to selfish reasons. Liberal arts student Meg (Katherin Langford), Maria’s closest friend, finds out her college status is in jeopardy because her mother no longer has access to Harlan’s money. This leads her to tell her family about Cabrera’s mother’s illegal status.
Walt, whose son might as well be named Alt-Right because they’re the least fleshed out in an ensemble cast of characters, tries to bargain by committing the family’s lawyers and resources to change Cabrera’s mother’s status. Unfortunately for Walt and the family, all of those resources now begin to Maria.
It’s a sudden change in the board state as she now has all of the pieces to “surround” the family who has lost everything they once had. It brings up a moral dilemma for Maria who now has to decide what to do now that the tables have turned.
If you’re skeptical about the political substance in the movie, rewind back to the political discussion between the family members that happens earlier in the film. As the family offers up several views on illegal immigration. Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson) pulls Maria into the conversation.
It’s a twist in itself that when Maria gets the inheritance none of the family members really stick to their notions of family and love for others that they so fiercely espoused when we first met them. And when the true villain is revealed and Maria is absolved, she stands high and mighty as the family she once knew stands outside her new home, looking up to see what she’ll as a new status quo is achieved.
The last image leaves viewers to come up with the answer themselves because it’s happening in the real world. Given how immigrants are currently treated in the country and there’s a growing shift as the white population becomes minority, Knives Out puts a kind, gentle-hearted Cabrera in charge.
Will the new status quo rule with compassion, justice, and mercy in return for what they’ve been given?
Armas is wonderful in her role, showing vulnerability and moral strength. Though she goes along with Harlan’s plan at first, she would rather face the consequences than see innocents imprisoned. Sadly, her loyalty and goodness are taken advantage of by entitled and ungrateful characters who have taken advantage and abused their privilege. In the end, it’s her goodness that wins.
Evans is a perfect villain who was able to make me forget about his tenure as Captain America, and Michael Shannon — whose stage presence can be immense — delivers a great performance as a conniving Walt whose own dreams were never realized.
The movie is billed as a comedy, but reality for many Americans is a tragedy. We can argue until the sun goes out about Rule of Law and what immigration (legal or illegal) mean for the country.
Ultimately, the things we do in society today can and will have consequences in the future.
Knives Out (2019)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Screenplay by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer, Katherine Langford, Jaden Martell, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, and Frank Oz