By Claire Booth
I went to the movies yesterday and saw Knives Out, the new Agatha Christie-ish murder mystery. It was Thanksgiving dinner for mystery fans—time-honored favorites and those one or two surprises that someone insists on bringing even though you think there’s enough of the traditional stuff.
Let’s start with the favorites. There’s a creaky old manor house, an extended, animosity-soaked family gathered for a special occasion, a famous detective, and a dead patriarch. I’m not giving anything away; the body is shown about 60 seconds into the film. It’s director Rian Johnson saying, “This is what we’re all here for; let’s get right to it, shall we?”
Knives Out: Rated PG-13 for Daniel Craig’s Southern accent, a mask-free Captain America, and an always bad-ass Jamie Lee Curtis.
The surprises to the traditional include Marta Cabrera, a young Latinx nurse hired to help care for Harlan Thrombey, the aforementioned patriarch and an aged mystery novelist. Marta (Ana de Armas) is more than just the help; everyone insists she’s “family.” But she’s not. There’s a scene where family members fall into arguing over politics, pulling Marta into the room so she can self-consciously stand there as they make their points about immigration policy. She’s a human face only when they need her to be.
I couldn’t help but compare Knives Out with Gosford Park, the Robert Altman’s 2001 masterpiece that had all the same standard elements. The manor house (this time in England), the extended family, the dead patriarch. In that movie, the wine glasses clink gently, the help are ignored (except when they’re being seduced), the accents are proper, and there’s a measured pace to everything.
There’s nothing refined about Knives Out. No time is wasted getting to the death, relatives swear at one another, there’s a fistfight (kind of), and everyone is proudly “self-made.” It is, in a word, American. And it’s a twisty puzzle of a mystery that takes the right things seriously, creates the right hero, and has a hell of a lot of fun with everything else.
*One final thought, without spoilers—the patriarch says something to one of the characters in a flashback midway through the movie. It casts an entirely different light on the ending, something that didn’t occur to me until I was writing this review. If you’ve seen the movie, DM me on Twitter @clairebooth10. I’d love to talk about it.
A more refined Knives Out poster and its spiritual twin, the one for Gosford Park.