If you haven’t had your fill of “rich people behaving badly” with the Trump hillbillies in the White House, then 2019 was the year for you at the cinema. “Ready or Not”, “The Goldfinch”, “Long Shot”, “The Hustle”, “After the Wedding” and even “Downton Abbey” went the extra mile to remind us that the rich are different.
A traditional murder mystery with 21st century manners (or lack thereof), writer/director Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” (Lionsgate) would give Agatha Christie the tingles. The morning after patriarch and best-selling mystery writer Harlan Thrombey’s (Christopher Plummer) 85th birthday celebration with his family in his Norfolk County, Massachusetts estate, he is found dead.
His housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson) finds him -- throat slit, knife in hand – in his study. Was it a suicide? Or could someone have committed such a heinous crime?
A self-made man who wrote his first novel on a rusty Smith-Corona, Harlan expected the same from his family, but was consistently disappointed. Daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) lived up to his expectations with her successful Boston real estate business, but her philandering husband Richard (Don Johnson) did not. Neither did their son Ransom (Chris Evans), who is one of the family members with whom Harlan had a dispute during the party.
The other was sycophantic son Walt (Michael Shannon), whose life revolves around running Harlan’s publishing empire, and is in for a surprise. Constantly disagreeing with Walt over how to best promote his work, Harlan decides to end their working relationship. It doesn’t help that Walt’s son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) is an alt-right enthusiast.
Liberal Instagram influencer and cosmetics diva Joni (Toni Collette), the widow of one of Harlan’s sons, and her college-student daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), depend on Harlan’s generosity for tuition and such. Harlan has discovered that Joni has been taking advantage of him and cuts off her and Meg.
Only nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), the daughter of an undocumented mother, is a source of joy for Harlan. They have a delightful and dependable relationship, which includes a nightly game of the board game Go. Without giving away essential plot points, it’s safe to say that a medicinal mix-up leads to Harlan’s passing.
A pair of local police detectives – Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Wagner (Noah Segan) – are summoned. So is private investigator Blanc (Daniel Craig), a sort of Southern-fried Hercule Poirot, who was hired anonymously via an envelope of cash. Blanc has a distinctive style of determining whether or not there was foul play afoot, and that’s one of the things that makes “Knives Out” such sharp entertainment.
The other thing is watching the family come apart at the seams. This aspect goes into full effect during the reading of the will when Marta is named as Harlan’s sole heir, inheriting everything he had to give.
Full of surprises and twists and turns, “Knives Out” also takes multiple stabs at comedy. Opening in time for Thanksgiving, “Knives Out” dishes up a family that will surely make you feel better about spending time with your own.