MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
When I first viewed early trailers for Knives Out, I had mixed feelings. Writer-director Rian Johnson has been a personal favorite of mine with films as diverse as Looper, Brick, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But the movie seemed like just another Agatha Christie locked room mystery homage, similar to Murder by Death and Clue: The Movie. Did we really need yet another variation on this familiar theme?
After watching Knives Out, I can reply with an enthusiastic “Yes!” because Johnson has created an incredibly entertaining movie that satisfies on virtually every level, with a star-studded cast that is clearly enjoying every moment of this story, which takes place primarily in the mansion that serves as home to mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) who is discovered in his study with a slit throat and a knife in his hand. Two local cops (LaKeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) come to investigate and interrogate every member of the dysfunctional Thrombey clan, including adult children (Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Shannon), in-laws (Don Johnson and Toni Collette), and grandsons (Chris Evans and Jaeden Martell). The staff is also brought in for questioning, including Marta Cabrera (de Armas), the devoted nurse to Harlan. With no clear suspect, the case is close to being considered a suicide with a subsequent reading of the will. But someone in the family has sent a large sum of money to the famous Southern detective Benoit Blanc (Craig). The game is afoot.
Knives Out has a few surprises up its sleeve, but you don’t have to work overtime keeping up with details. Everyone in the family is a fairly unreliable narrator, but the film acknowledges this right away and has no intentions of being less than fair to the viewer. There are plenty of flashbacks from various points of view (which gives Christopher Plummer some good scenes). Almost everyone is self-serving and vain, with the exception seemingly being Marta. But when everyone has something to gain from Harley’s death, who can you trust?
Making fun of the rich has been a staple of movies during hard times (since the Great Depression) and at this time of economic disparity, Knives Out seems especially timely. And showing the family members as fools provides a safe way in which even affluent filmgoers can find a comfortable distance in which to observe themselves without feeling defensive.
Jesus used parables in much the same way. At first the Parable of the Good Samaritan seems to be about helping a stranger in need. It is only with sober and mature reflection that we can see ourselves as the person riding past the man stricken down on the road – the one who chooses not to help.
Knives Out is one of those rare movies that you can recommend to just about anyone, and I hope that you do.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Four halos: A clever and funny murder mystery with a moral conscience.
Three pitchforks: Casual swearing; murder; selfishness; alcohol and drug use; violence.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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