Sometimes – in trying times like these – you want to escape. No heavy-duty docudramas or TV news investigations. You just want something fun.
In other words, it’s the perfect time for a film like “Knives Out.” Written and directed by Rian Johnson, it feels like a good, old Agatha Christie whodunnit, and just in time for the holidays!
There’s Harlan Thrombey, the wealthy old head of the family, played plummily by Christopher Plummer. Thrombey made his multi-million dollar fortune writing mystery novels (easily the least believable point in the film). He is discovered dead in his bed, the morning after his 85th birthday party – having apparently slit his own throat.
Thanks to the big celebration the night before, there is now a sprawling Victorian mansion that’s chock full of suspects, all with definite motive, since Thrombey had threatened to cut them all out of his will and leave everything to the young Hispanic nurse who took care of him, instead.
This young woman – played winningly by Ana de Armas — would be the obvious suspect except for one key fact: She cannot tell a lie, to the police or anyone else. She has an unambiguous “tell” – she pukes!
I was charmed by this particular detail, as I have trouble telling lies, myself. As a case in point, I give you myself, confronted by my 6-year-old on the morning after he’d left his first tooth for the tooth fairy. “It’s really just you and Daddy giving me money, isn’t it?” he asked, point blank.
I held out a whole six seconds before crumpling. “Yes,” I said, “but don’t tell your little brother. Give him a chance to believe!”
There is a fine collection of first-class actors here, hamming it up just enough for us join in their fun without spoiling the story. Jamie Lee Curtis is perfect as the officious oldest daughter; Toni Collette is quite enjoyable as a spacey health nut who nevertheless delivers some zingers; and Chris Evans, better known for his role as “Captain America,” is the perfect spoiled grandson. (And I believe that the Irish Fisherman’s cable-knit sweater he wears has an Instagram account of its own!)
Best of all, Daniel Craig (the real James Bond, for my money) is very amusing as freelance detective Benoit Blanc who doesn’t even know why he was hired, or by whom, and sports a very odd French accent that could only come from Great Britain by way of New Orleans. He fulfills his promise to be “ornamental.”
Of course, I never quite lost sight of the fact that this was Daniel Craig, and Jamie Lee Curtis. In that respect, several of the actors did not pass what I call “the Oprah test.”
I named the test after seeing Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels’ 2013 film, “The Butler.” Oprah played the wife of White House butler Cecil Gaines, who had served 8 presidents in his long life. I remember I kept saying, “Oprah is doing a fine acting job in this movie.” But I never forgot she was Oprah…which meant that she never completely disappeared into the role, as the very best actors somehow manage to do.
Even with that proviso, I managed to become completely absorbed in the tale told in “Knives Out.”
Certainly, some credit goes to the sets; they make the apparently numberless rooms in this mansion so interesting, they almost qualify as characters in their own right. In fact, my enjoyment was marred only by my constant wish that I could join this crowd myself, as part of a Murder Night event.
Most importantly, the film achieves something all too rare nowadays – it contained enough plot twists and turns that it kept me guessing, right to the end.
So if you want an enjoyable romp of a movie, or even just two hours and ten minutes of respite from the daily news, I highly recommend “Knives Out!”