Knives Out – A Movie Review

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Mystery Extraordinaire

I love a good mystery.  But not just any mystery; I like ’em mixed up, jumbled, and completely complicated.  The tough nuts are always the funnest to crack.  Here’s the funny thing: I’m a horrible detective!  Remember Murder on the Orient Express (2017)?  I was riveted and spent the entire movie replaying all possible options for who did it.  All the options except for the right one that is.  Knives Out (2019) was no different: it had me on the edge of my seat for the entire 2 hours and 10 minutes that it ran.

Prior to last night, I had only seen the cover of the Knives Out.  I had not watched the trailer or read a review.  I went into it completely blind.  That had me nervous.  Especially when the first scene opened on my screen.  It felt dark, spooky, and like a horror movie.  But I was quickly put at ease within the first 10-15 minutes.  This is NOT a horror film (obviously), although the music sometimes makes one wonder…

Expectations

Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I expected a higher level of bothersome content than I normally am privy to.  I was right and wrong in this respect, but I will get into those details later.  For now, my pre-movie expectations.

I knew there would be blood, a murder weapon, and a dead body.  No surprises there, it is after all a murder mystery.

I also expected some suggestive language because that is common fare these days.  Beyond just the usual smattering of sex-talk, I was somewhat assuming there would be more physically suggestive scenes.  I don’t know why I thought this (having absolutely no knowledge of the plot and not having seen a trailer), but I braced myself for at least one scene I would have to skip.

I did not think much about language (unfortunately, with my work-place experiences I have become somewhat numb to a plethora of foul-words.)  However, I quickly decided that language was a pretty big factor in this movie just minutes into the film.  The s-, f-, b-, and p-words are so common in everyday life that I would be riding a high horse to assume there would be no language, or at least only light language.  (Not that I’m making excuses for Hollywood’s overuse of profanity, but it is fact nonetheless.)

My House, My Rules, My Coffee

Christopher Plummer stars as Harlan Thrombey, around whom the entire story centers.  Mr. Thrombey is an old man (85 to be exact) whose family is less than savory at times, but they are his family nonetheless.  When Mr. Thrombey is found dead in his study by his housekeeper, the nosy and cannabis-addicted Fran, the strained relationships between the Thrombey family members are thrown into the spotlight.  (P.S. No spoilers here…you find this out within the first few minutes of the movie.)

It seems that everyone had motive in this not-so-cut-and-dried investigation.  Mr. Thrombey’s death is quickly ruled as suicide, but Benoit Blanc senses deeper problems.  Who is this Blanc?  Everyone wants to know, and we as well as the unsuspecting characters, are held in suspense for a short while.  Potential spoiler alert:  We soon find out he is a private investigator who was anonymously hired to solve Mr. Thrombey’s murder/suicide.  

Blanc quickly takes notice of Marta, Mr. Thrombey’s nurse and companion.  She seems innocent, and her inability to lie backs up her answers to Blanc’s probing questions.  Marta, played by Ana de Armas, gained my sympathies quickly.  We follow her through the rest of the movie as she is expected to assist Blanc in his investigations.

Invisible Ink Messages

Independence is highly prized by the characters in this film.  However, what’s interesting to note is that each member of the Thrombey family is dependent on their patriarch, Harlan Thrombey (especially financially.)  It’s an interesting juxtaposition of belief versus reality.  Most of the characters are in complete denial of their situation and how they got to where they are.  In fact, there is a certain greedy possessiveness about the Thrombey family that is highlighted throughout the film, especially at the rather maddening reading of Mr. Thrombey’s will.  The last few scenes of the movie reveal the sad truth of what greed and entitlement does to a family.

Speaking of entitlement, the issue of immigration and what should be done with illegal immigrants comes up frequently.  Marta, the nurse, immigrated to America (at an unknown time in the past) and it is emphasized by a few characters that she did it the right way, i.e. by working herself near to death to earn American citizenship.  Although this fact is mentioned several times, its rather ambiguous if she actually has citizenship.  This becomes rather important because we discover early in the movie that Marta’s mother and sister are here illegally, undocumented.  While there aren’t necessarily conclusions drawn, it is hinted that the Thrombey family is being unnecessarily racist by declaring that immigrants should jump through all the right hoops to receive the rights of citizens.

It becomes clear as the film progresses that the Thrombey family is playing a game.  A game of power, of money, of control.  You could almost say its a game of thrones.  I will be honest, the circular knife decor displayed in the library immediately brought to mind that unsavory, sadistic, ungodly television show.  Whether there are truly parallels, I can’t actually say.  But it is saddening to see the total lack of family ties in this movie.  The most loving, in fact only loving tie, we see for the Thrombey’s is between Harlan and Marta.

Moral Conclusions

Speaking of Mr. Thrombey and Marta, their connection offers some room for speculation.  They do have a neat relationship, a sweet bond.  Marta clearly cares for Mr. Thrombey and is, quite obviously, his only friend.  Mr. Thrombey enjoys Marta’s companionship and we can clearly see that they have had many fun nights together playing “go”, a game, we conclude, that was created by Mr. Thrombey himself.  As the movie progresses, we begin to see moral implications of Mr. Thrombey’s relationship with Marta.  There is obviously a LOT of gossip that goes on during their many hours of sitting together.  Marta knows many, if not all, of the family secrets.  Believers have no excuse for permitting gossip; however, within the film, this creates a tension that develops the plot really well.

Marta, as his nurse, is bound to protect the sanctity of life.  She holds to that in a very compassionate way, both with Mr. Thrombey and with other characters in the movie.  In fact, there is a point in the film when Marta has to decide whether to protect human life, or to protect herself from a supposed threat to her reputation and family.  Again, no spoilers, you will have to watch to find out how she responds.  Throughout the film, Benoit Blanc consistently mentions Marta’s compassion and love for people.  This is purposeful, it seems.  Marta struggles emotionally to accept that she is still a good nurse, still a loving person, and Blanc, it appears, desires to boost her self-esteem as the Thrombey family simultaneously preys on her kindness.  We see this play out through the film as Marta consistently follows her conscience, even as she doubts herself, while the Thrombeys continually walk in greed and selfishness.

This film is chock full of language.  I was disappointed…mostly because Chris Evans (playing Ransom Thrombey) who is most well-known for his role as Captain America in the MCU had the dirtiest mouth.  I won’t go into details with the exact words, but this is not necessarily a film for younger audiences.  In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say most children under the age of 17-18 probably do not need to watch this movie.  It’s a good movie, no doubt, but there is something to be said about protecting the innocence of those who have not yet experienced the world in its full moral decay.

I was pleasantly surprised at the complete lack of sex-scenes.  I was not surprised by the mention (twice) of the unsavory sexual tendencies of one of the Thrombey grandchildren.  Throughout the entire film, the Thrombey family continually reminds Marta that they have been good to her, very good to her, by hiring her and allowing her to be a companion for their father and grandfather.  However, this is just a facade that covers their absolute lack of care for Marta.  This becomes obvious when they suggest that she was more than just a friend and nurse to Mr. Thrombey.  Nothing of this nature actually existed in Marta and Mr. Thrombey’s relationship, but the family tries desperately to come up with reasons for Marta to be in debt to the family.  Suggesting sexual tension between the patriarch and his nurse is not a low stoop for the Thrombey family.  I will say, both of these sexual conversations are somewhat quick and it would be easy to miss most of it if you weren’t paying close attention.

To Watch, or Not to Watch…

As I mentioned earlier, this is a good movie.  The plot twists and turns, and keeps you on the line.  It plays the element of surprise well.  While I am not always a fan of Rian Johnson as a director (I’m still upset about the ruination of the third installment of the Star Wars trilogy with the 8th movie), he did a wonderful job with an Agatha Christie-like story.  Overall, it is well done.  There are subtleties in the movie that I had to think a little harder about and pay close attention to notice.

I haven’t said much about the character Benoit Blanc.  He is a southern Sherlock Holmes.  I was initially not sure what part he would play in the movie, but I ended up greatly enjoying Daniel Craig’s character.  Christopher Plummer and Ana de Armas’s characters are also fun to watch.  It’s really an all-star cast, and everyone nails their character.

The only concern here is foul language, a few snippets of innuendo and straight up sex-talk, and one dead body.  That may seem like a lot to some, but I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

I hope you can enjoy this movie as well!  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  Give it a thumbs up, thumbs down, and tell me why!

Until the next bowl of popcorn. 🙂

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