By: Kevin Jordan
And just a dash of Foghorn Leghorn.
We’re finally to the last – arguably the best – big movie season of the year. Unlike the summer, it is not just filled with big, loud blockbusters plus even bigger, louder, dumb blockbusters. The end-of-year season includes prestige movies, smart dramas, Star Wars (usually), and, yes, big, loud, dumb blockbusters (looking at you, Jumanji: The Next Level). It means a time when blockbusters don’t fill ninety percent of the theaters because studios actually want you to see the other movies. Thus, we get movies like Knives Out.
Knives Out takes elements of Clue and Greedy, mixes in some Agatha Christie, and sprinkles a little Foghorn Leghorn on top. I am always up for a good whodunit. These movies are very few and far between, so when one comes along, I look forward to it. Especially when that whodunit promises Daniel Craig and Chris Evans. And Jamie Lee Curtis. And Michael Shannon and Christopher Plummer and Toni Collette and Don Johnson. Well, maybe not those last two, but maybe some of you get really excited for Collette and Johnson.
Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) is very old and very rich. Harlan has been taking care of his family for decades, lending money to Joni (Collette) for her business, paying for Meg’s (Katherine Langford) college, gifting seed money to Linda’s (Curtis) business, and letting Walt (Shannon) run Harlan’s publishing business. When Harlan is found dead in his office (the opening scene of the film), the cops interview the family at Harlan’s home and the dysfunction and greed starts to reveal itself.
The interviews are initially conducted by Detective Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield), the audience getting a rotation of Linda, Joni, Walt, and Richard (Johnson) answering questions while private investigator Benoit Blanc (Craig) looks on in the background. Eventually, Benoit takes over the investigation, revealing that he was paid by an anonymous benefactor to investigate Harlan’s death (initially ruled a suicide). These scenes do a great job of establishing characters, setting up the scenes, and revealing the timeline of events that occurred the night of Harlan’s death.
The two remaining main characters are Harlan’s grandson Ransom (Evans), and Harlan’s caregiver Marta (Ana de Armas). Ransom is universally loathed by the family, mostly because he is a trust-fund baby freeloading through life. Marta is the opposite of Ransom and the one person Harlan fully trusted. She also has an interesting condition where she vomits if she lies. If this is a real condition, I want to meet the person that has it and test it. From a distance. Benoit most certainly does.
Now you know the basics of the film and the rest is trying to figure out the truth behind Harlan’s death before the movie reveals it. Like any good whodunit, there are red herrings, twists, and turns to throw you and the detectives off the scent. The problem is it is hard to focus attention on looking for clues and misdirection when we are being wildly entertained by a bunch of actors reveling in their roles and the screenplay. For my money, the best line comes when a character loses patience with Benoit, telling him to stop with the “absurd, Kentucky-fried, Foghorn Leghorn accent,” a line that simultaneously jabs at Benoit’s accent…and Craig doing Benoit’s accent. It also is an apt summary of a movie that is a legitimate murder-mystery…while also being a bit of a caricature of a murder-mystery. A movie that is an apt metaphor of the end-of-the-year movie season.
Rating: Worth ten dollars more than you paid for it, which should prevent you from paying for Charlie’s Angels.