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  • Writer's pictureBruce Klein

Knives Out: Whodunit? Why Bother?

The mystery, Knives Out, has an interesting twist on the typical murder mystery plot. Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is an author who made a fortune from writing murder mysteries. He lives alone in a big house on extensive grounds. His family in one way or another is dependent on him. They are greedy and love father’s money more than father himself. On the night before he dies, Harlan throws a birthday party for himself at his home. The entire family attends. They are a sorry self-centered lot. No one is particularly elated. It seems their attendance is required. During the party, Harlan calls on members of the family individually to speak with him. In these talks, he settles up with them.

When the party ends, members of the family are either relieved or crest fallen. When the party is over, Harlan’s nurse Marta Cabera (Ana de Armas) goes into his writing room to administer his medicine and play their nightly game of “Go.” Harlan’s game is in jeopardy so he quits and retires for the night. The next day the nurse finds him dead. The police arrive and the famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) accompanies them. They interview family members and house staff. Flashbacks show some of the events reported are fabricated. We don’t know why? These characters, except for Harlan, are all so dull, so we really don’t care what happens to them.

The will reveals that Marta, his nurse, inherits all of Harland’s possessions. The family becomes furious and demands answers. In act three, the facts come out.

The writer/director (Rian Johnson) set out to make a quirky mystery story, but the execution is flawed. If the movie was to be played for laughs, it misses. Much of the humor falls flat. For example, the detective looks at the house and declares that the place looks like a setup for a game of Clue. Other lines are more strange than funny. We learn everything there is to know about the characters during the party in the first act. Everything we see just reinforces our first impression of them. Usually in murder mysteries something comes up about the characters that was overlooked, but not in Knives Out.

Unusual for murder mysteries, the second act has no buildup to the end. This lack of action allows the audience to doze off.

Christopher Plummer steals every scene he is in. He commands attention. Of course, he is skilled at that and was partly chosen to keep the audience’s attention on him. The other characters fade into the scenery as they retreat into caricatures with the exception of Marta. Jamie Lee Curtis plays her character through turning herself into a shallow unappealing shrew. All the close ups make the actors look like they are under bright lights being interrogated at the police station. They make an unflattering group.

The opening for this movie offers so much promise that is unfulfilled. Even in the third act with its twists and turns nothing seems to happen that surprises. The most suspicious come in a short and obvious list. The ending is mundane. The story fails us while we think an exciting surprise ending is in store.

The movie is uninspiring. It doesn’t deliver. It ends, but leaves a hollow, incomplete feeling. It is suitable for all ages. There is little foul language and no sexual scenes. It’s not the worse way to spend an evening. But if you have a Clue game, play that instead.


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