Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow
‘Knives Out’: Murder Most Clever
A sleek game of cat and mouse, “Knives Out” begins the hunt with a mysterious pool of blood and ends, well, telling wouldn’t be fair.
Stuffed with famous and blurrily familiar faces, the movie takes the shape of an old-fashioned whodunit — the kind with mystery, suspense, entertainment, a corpse on an heirloom settee and a half-dozen or so shifty suspects milling about.
As in many genre exemplars, the main setting is a stately manor with dark corners, creaking stairs and a warren of richly appointed rooms shrouded in secrets. Together, the rooms create a claustrophobic maze, though they more pointedly resemble cabinets of curiosities with jumbles of books, dead animals, laughing masks, acres of rugs and eccentric
The house itself feels like a mousetrap, which works for a narrative puzzle in which the parts keep shifting as the wood-paneled walls close in. The overall sense of confinement is perfect for the aims of a private investigator, Benoit Blanc, a honey-baked ham played by Daniel Craig with grandiose self-regard and a Southern accent that seems borrowed from Kevin Spacey. There isn’t a butler in the parlor, but there is a rather too virtuous caretaker, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), who worked for the manor’s imperious patriarch Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), who suddenly and rather flamboyantly croaks.
› Rating: PG-13
› Running Time: 2 hours,
› Theaters: Cleveland UEC Theatres 14, AMC Chattanooga 18, AMC Classic Battlefield 10, AMC Classic Majestic 12, AMC Classic Northgate 14
Soon after Harlan’s body is discovered, the law (Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) questions the family, a finely curated collection of gargoyles presided over by a crisp Jamie Lee Curtis and a leaden Michael Shannon as Harlan’s children, and rounded out by Don Johnson, Chris Evans and Toni Collette, among others.
Harlan is a charming monster, a type that Plummer excels in playing, and it’s a shame that he isn’t around longer. A renowned mystery writer, Harlan has written stacks of bestsellers, amassing wealth and cultivating a grasping, desperate dependence in his avaricious family.
Director Rian Johnson scatters enough hints to keep you busy guessing as characters enter and exit amid abrupt cuts and flashbacks. Things get complicated, though they never deepen, which seems by design. “Knives Out” is essentially an energetic, showy take on a dusty Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, with interrogations, possible motives and dubious alibis.
You spend a lot of time with Benoit and Marta, who are never as engaging as the size of their roles suggest they’re meant to be. Benoit’s part in the investigation is another mystery; he sniffs around like its lead dog but mostly comes across as a delectable chew toy for the director. When you first meet Benoit, he is sitting in an armchair, a nod to a genre staple and some teasing misdirection: He is, you soon appreciate, a hands-on sleuth if not an especially penetrative one. He presses witnesses, roams the grounds and sticks close to Marta, the most sympathetic and sentimentalized character in a movie that otherwise exhibits an exuberant skepticism about human nature.