Murder mysteries and other forms of crime fiction have been beloved since the days of Agatha Christie novels for their suspense and mind-bending twists. Over the past several decades, we have seen murder mysteries in books, comics, TV shows, movies, plays, board games, and video games. People even enjoy immersing themselves in murder mystery dinner parties. Whether you grew up with Sherlock Holmes, Dick Tracy, or Scooby-Doo, it’s safe to say everyone loves a good whodunit. Knives Out is the latest popular big-screen murder mystery film. Is it worth the admiration that countless classic crime fiction stories receive? Let’s investigate to find out.
A lot of mystery movies suffer from either having the final solution be way too obvious or too impossible to figure out. Knives Out, however, perfectly lies in the middle. It’s never too predictable, but it’s possible for the audience to figure out as the story progresses. It’s perfect for playing along with, which is part of the fun of the genre. It also creates a sense of accomplishment when correctly figuring things out before they’re revealed.
Adding to its unpredictability, the film uses an interesting idea by making it seem like a lot is wrapped up early on. That way, it’s hard to know what would happen next. It plays with your expectations a lot, making for a unique experience that you wouldn’t typically get with the murder mystery genre. There are also other genuine surprises throughout the movie to keep the audience on its feet that aren’t necessarily tied to the central mystery. The story of the main family and their drama is just as captivating.
Knives Out is clearly inspired by and feels like a classic whodunit tale set in modern day. They pull off the modern setting without ever feeling lame like other movies do by drawing tons of attention to a social media platform or smart device. The modern setting makes the film feel more relatable to audiences and allows it to stand out from the traditional old English settings we are used to.
The acting is all-around incredible from the film’s ensemble cast, including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Michael Shannon, and more. This is a very character-driven movie, and these actors bring these characters to life with very real emotion that guides the movie’s plot.
Daniel Craig especially shines as Benoit Blanc, the private investigator. He pulls off a character (and an accent) we haven’t seen from him before, and he gives such an energetic performance while doing so. The character of Benoit Blanc is so captivating to watch that I genuinely want to see him return in a sequel of some sort. Benoit Blanc feels like a new classic movie character that will be remembered for years to come.
One element of the film that allows it to stand out from most other murder mystery tales is that the victim actually feels like a fleshed out character. In other crime fiction stories, the victim dies early and other characters talk about them, but we don’t get to see how they were as a person. In Knives Out, we see the victim’s life through stories from the other characters and flashbacks. We get to see who they actually were before dying. Not only that, but they’re actually one of the best characters in the entire movie, which is rare to see from a role that’s usually just there to die in the beginning to drive the plot forward and start the mystery. It causes the viewer to feel sad that they were the one killed.
I can absolutely see why Knives Out received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, as its dialogue is both witty and realistic at the same time. This clever dialogue provides an outlet for some entertaining dark humor and allows the audience to witness the personality of each of the long list of characters. It also always feels like something an actual person would say without getting too ridiculous (other than some moments with Benoit Blanc, but that adds to his eccentric character).
Knives Out cleverly plays on the power of perspective. We see the same events from how different characters viewed it, and it’s slightly different every time, whether it’s who was near the victim during his birthday party or what time characters arrived. They also talk about each other from their own point of view. For instance, when Walt talks about his son Jacob, he convinces the audience that he is mature and smart. When other characters talk about Jacob, they convince us that perhaps he’s a bit of a jerk. The different characters’ perspectives is an incredibly important storytelling device in this movie, and it’s used extremely well.
One of the overlooked strengths of Knives Out is its production design. The sets used in the mansion and around its property are extremely well-detailed and tell us a lot about who lives there, like the size of the library or the strange props used as art-pieces. The best part of the set is that it allows the audience to know a lot about the layout of the property, which is vital to the case that’s needed to be solved.
The film’s original score is phenomenal. It’s one of the first elements I immediately noticed when watching it. It quickly sets the tone and makes you feel like you are in an Agatha Christie novel.
I was pleasantly surprised to see such interesting commentary and themes throughout the movie. Powerful political themes were presented by the family’s squabbling, greed, and anger toward Marta. It offers an interesting look at the current, unfortunate political climate of our country in interesting ways, like Ransom claiming they welcomed Marta into their home and that she took it from them. There’s also a heartfelt theme of always choosing kindness in the midst of hate, which is how the day is ultimately saved. Mixing these themes is fascinating, as it indicates we are currently surrounded by hate, but perhaps we can prevail by choosing kindness and being a good person.
This movie has a large ensemble cast, so it was inevitable that some characters would be seen less or have less impact on the story. That being said, it’s still unfortunate that we learn so much about some characters and a lot less about others. A couple of the characters even feel like they are just there to make the central family appear bigger and the movie more full.
One of the primary suspects is literally named “Ransom.” That’s ridiculously on-the-nose and extremely silly, especially given the circumstances in the story. Why not give him any other name?
In the Know
Rian Johnson is known for his writing and directing, however Knives Out marks the first time he also produced a movie that he’s made. With the widely positive responses regarding Knives Out, perhaps it’s safe to assume he will produce some of his other upcoming films as well.
Lionsgate, the studio behind Knives Out, has already announced that a sequel to the film is happening. It’s said that the sequel will once again follow Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc as he delves into a brand new case that needs to be solved. I’m pretty excited about this. I could watch this character in several more movies and not be bored of him.
Not only is Knives Out an instant murder mystery classic that all fans of the genre should see, but it’s also a completely original tale which is rare to see from Hollywood. It contains witty dialogue, dark humor, characters who are memorable and fleshed out, clever commentary, and a well-thought out mystery with some surprising twists and turns. If you have been craving a new, mind-bending whodunit, look no further than the incredibly entertaining Knives Out.