Thursday, December 26, 2019

Movie Review of Knives Out with Jamie Lee Curtis: Sharp, Suspenseful and Star-studded, it's an Intense and Masterfully Realized Mystery

By Ashton Samson

Everyone’s a suspect in Rian Johnson's new brilliant mystery, Knives Out. Most of them are of the usual type, all of them could be liable for the murder of affluent mystery writer, Harlan Thrombey. As it starts, the film feels like something out of an Agatha Christie novel. Even as the film races through its energetic and riotous opening montage, I was uncertain of how Johnson was going to pull off a decent homage to the mystery/suspense genre, especially since it's been years since a truly good flick of that sort has been released.
As Knives Out progressed, continuing it's impressive handling of the diversity of well-chosen actors, all while maintaining a fresh and rejuvenated pace for the genre, it became clear that this wasn't going to be a straightforward mystery. The way that Johnson put a fresh spin on a nearly lost genre is by adding political undertones and stereotypical characters for a modern age, all seen through the eyes of Marta Cabrera, Harlan’s caretaker, played superbly by Ana de Armas. 

Johnson altered the traditional Agatha Christie format, by revealing the murderer earlier in the story. The significance of this? It's not about the mystery as much anymore. It's about Harlan's complete disdain and disgust for the greedy and self-centered behavior of his family members amidst the backdrop of the kind and compassionate Marta.

From the beginning, I latched on to Marta as a character, because I had a feeling that she would bring something greater to the themes of Knives Out. In a lavish house filled to the rim with the usual old-school suspects of rich, pretentious people, Marta was the standout, because she provided an opposing perspective.  Johnson used this film as a platform for social commentary regarding the issues of  immigration and the power of women.

By focusing on Marta as an immigrant, Johnson places her at the center of the current political arguments and attempts to present both sides of the story through thorough character development and great dialogue. Some standouts include Jacob Thrombey, played brilliantly in his brief time on screen by Jaeden Martell. He perfectly inhabits the personality of a snooty, entitled prepster, whose alt-right leanings are encapsulated by ardent claims that Marta is an “anchor baby” who is out to get his grandfather’s fortune. 

This review contains spoilers.

Other noteworthy characters include Linda and Richard Drysdale, played by scene-stealers Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson. Linda left her father, Harlan’s publishing company and as a result, started her very own business, but it shouldn't go unnoticed that she did so with a three million dollar loan from her father. A great deal of attention is put into ensuring the viewer that Linda is very proud of her supposed “self-made” wealth, despite its origins. Richard’s hatred for immigrants as a whole is made abundantly clear. Walt, who is Harlan’s son and his wife Donna, similarly both despise Marta because of her being an immigrant and just like Linda, Walt didn’t really start  from the ground up, since his father gave him a job in the family business. Arguably, the only two family members, other than Harlan, who for a period of time, are sympathetic towards Marta are Joni, Harlan’s daughter in law, played by a shrewd and sassy Toni Collette and Harlan’s granddaughter, Meg, playing the free-spirited, seemingly open-minded liberal perfectly by Katherine Langford.

Like Jamie Lee Curtis? 
Watch her in An Acceptable Loss, Streaming & on Showtime:
Amidst the investigation into Harlan’s murder, led by Benoit Blanc and played by the always dapper, cool and mysterious Daniel Craig (having a grand time portraying a different type of Bond), the family is unraveled piece by piece, revealing their true lack of accomplishment, ambition and parasitic reliance upon Harlan’s fortune. This unraveling  shifts the focus away from their political views and reveals the true petty nature of  all of the family members as they aim their hatred solely at Marta, the woman who stands to gain their inheritance.

It is important to note that Knives Out never loses its suspense during the first two acts. However, the final act was, for me, the most intriguing. Witnessing the entire Thrombey family, whether they are an anti-immigrant, alt-right or a seemingly  open-minded liberals, attack Marta out of nothing but sheer greed and hatred was fantastic fun, because in the end, it was a sure bet that she would win. Harlan knew his family so well that he calculated all of their responses, and planned ahead to give Marta the prize. 


View Trailer:




As the plan is slowly revealed, step by step, by Blanc, we are thrust back in the midst of the Poirot like reveal - only this time it is the plan before the death and a murder thwarted. What a spectacular twist!  I found myself cheering on Blanc and Marta, as they proudly share Harlan’s last act to spare Marta- the only deserving selfless person in the group - and her immigrant family, leaving her his entire estate to her and ensuring that she remain blameless in his death. As Marta stares out from the balcony of her newly inherited home at the deflated and defeated crowd of Thrombey losers, while holding a coffee cup that says “ My House, My Rules, My Coffee” we know that Harlan is somewhere grinning from ear to ear, just as I was!