Movie Review: Knives Out


The Jr. Mad Scientist sent me a message yesterday. “I’m thinking about renting Knives Out, would you want to watch it with me?” 

I was delighted with the idea. We’re all in the same house, but she and I and the Little Man have mostly been giving one another space. Me, because sick, her because she’s like that… she’s not anti-social, she’s asocial. Anyway. The concept of the three of us curling up in the living room and munching homemade sushi (recipe coming soon) and watching a fun movie sounded like a great idea. I’d wanted to see this one, it looked like a nice homage to some of my favorite kinds of books. Plus, spending time with my kids is always nice. Especially as they are old enough now… But I will come back to that. 

Knives Out, if you haven’t seen any of the trailers, is a very campy over-the-top pastiche and homage to murder mysteries. My initial grumble is that having a murder mystery author live on an estate like that gives young writers an unrealistic expectation of what authors actually make… this is not a movie that hangs anything on realism. It’s got it’s tongue firmly in cheek and is somehow enunciating clearly around that. From the thick as gravy Southern Accent Daniel Craig spoons on for his character Benoit Blanc, to the caricatured characters of the family. The Jr Mad Scientist was sitting on the couch with me, and leaned over early in the movie to mutter ‘he has pretty eyes.’ Yes, he does, as does Chris Evans, and the filmographers make the most of both men’s assets in that way. This is not a pretty movie. The lighting is harsh, at times. The sets are cluttered. But you will want to watch closely, because everything has a purpose. From the striking of a single key on the piano, to a coffee mug. 

The clues are doled out to the viewers in a non-linear fashion, but that’s ok. I know many mystery aficionados want to have everything up front to solve if they can. I was enjoying the ride, on this one, and knew from the beginning there would be a gotcha – there is, but it’s not what you’d expect – and felt they did a good job of portraying the confusion a crime scene can have before all the threads are sorted out neatly. This is very old school rather than forensic science, and again, I’m ok with that. Misha Burnett said it was “Wodehouse levels of snark and Wolfe clever” and by the end I certainly agree with that. Snarky and clever! 

Which is, in the end, what made it a fun watch for all three of us. More than once the keeper of the remote (the Little Man, not for any other reason than proximity) paused the movie so he could ask a question, or make a speculation. I tried to keep my tongue still – heaven knows I have read more mystery novels than they have! – but in the very end even I was surprised by the denouement. And that is more than I had expected or asked for! The added pleasure of having the kids be old enough to fully grasp the plot and ask intelligent, cogent questions about not only where it was going, but character development points was the cherry on top. 

The underlying message of the film, made perfectly clear in Benoit’s classic monologue near the climactic scene, was that if you are a kind person trying to do the right things, you will win through at the end. I liked that. Is it realistic? Is any of this movie? Doesn’t matter. It was a wholesome touch, and I was happy to see it, rather than a tragicomic ending of nihilism and hopelessness. 

The kids have a question, though. At the end of the movie they both turned to me and asked if my friends (they mean you) know of any other older movies that are clever murder mysteries like this one. They really enjoyed it. I’m going to see if I still have a copy of The Thin Man, one of my favorites, but please, leave us suggestions! They thank you, as do I. 



7 responses to “Movie Review: Knives Out”

  1. Murder on the Orient Express has at least two versions. The Cadfael series, BBC, is fun, but very different.

  2. Ummmm, this is not a murder mystery, exactly, but Amazon Prime has two seasons of “The Booth At The End.”
    People have heard that this man can solve problems. They come for help, and he looks in a book, and tells them what to do to get what they ask for.
    I found it fascinating, because of the theme of “what does your heart desire, and what are you willing to do to get it?”

    And I just looked on Prime to see what they had in the mystery category, looking for something I had enjoyed, and made a discovery: I don’t watch mystery movies!

    I do recall enjoying “Witness for the Prosecution,” and “Clue” was amusing.

    I have tried podcasts with the “mystery” tag, but they invariably turn out not to be whodunit, but who-ate-your-mama. I don’t like horror, suspense, terror, mother-rapin’, father-stabbin’ burnt dead bodies and veins in yer teeth.
    Well, except for the original. I like both recordings of “Alice’s Restaurant;” the movie, not so much.

    1. For podcast, you might enjoy Thornvale by Susannah Lewis. She put together a fun series with a mystery, but it’s also fantasy.

  3. The original “Sleuth” 1972, (with Michael Caine as the young man and Lawrence Oliver as the old man, as opposed to the 2007 remake where Michael Caine plays the old man and Jude Law plays the young man.) The first one is very clever and convoluted, in the second one they just get violent and shouty a lot.

    Maybe “Deathtrap” 1982, with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve (there is a homosexual romance as a sub-plot, you may downcheck it for the kids on that basis–there is one kiss and no sex, though.)

    It’s not a mystery, but “Noises Off” (since I seem to be on a Michael Caine kick) has a great cast, including Cain, Reeve, Carol Burnett, and John Ritter and the same kind of Jeeves and Wooster back and forth dialogue.

    “Laura” 1944, Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, with Vincent Price in a very un-Vincent Price role. Very twisty.

    “North By Northwest” 1959–and if your kids haven’t seen it already. My personal vote for the Best Film Ever Made.

    1. Noises Off! It’s even funnier if you are or ever have been in theatre.

  4. The trouble with Harry, I don’t know if it enters in this category exactly, but the roaming corpse was very entertaining.