Bethlehem Press

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Movie Review: ‘Knives Out’ is in

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 by PAUL WILLISTEIN in Focus

“Knives Out” is an entertaining movie with not only a double-twist ending, but a triple-twist ending.

Just when you think you’ve figured out this “whodunit,” the plot takes a sharp turn. “Knives Out” is an enigma within an enigma.

It’s no wonder that the “Knives Out’ screenplay, written by the movie’s director Rian Johnson, received an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.

“Knives Out” is a satisfying movie-going experience.

“Knives Out” is bolstered by a terrific ensemble cast, led by Daniel Craig, who plays Benoit Blanc, a private investigator hired by an unknown person to probe the apparent suicide of Harlan Thrombey (played by the wonderful Christopher Plummer), a renowned mystery novelist.

Thrombey’s 85th birthday is the occasion for a family gathering in his New England mansion. At stake is the outcome of Thrombey’s last will and testament and who will be named heirs to his fortune. The family is vying for Thrombey’s favor and jockeying for position at the table. You might say, as the title implies, they have the “Knives Out.”

The cast of suspects, er, family members, is played by: Jamie Lee Curtis (Linda Drysdale, Thrombey’s eldest daughter), Don Johnson (Richard Drysdale, Linda’s husband), Michael Shannon (Walter, Thrombey’s youngest son); Riki Lindhome (Donna, Walt’s wife), Toni Collette (Joni, widow of Thrombey’s deceased son), Chris Evans (Hugh, Linda’s and Richard’s son and Thrombey’s grandson), Katherine Langford (Megan, Joni’s daughter and Thrombey’s granddaughter), Jaeden Martell (Jacob, Walt and Donna’s son and Thrombey’s grandson) and K Callan (Thrombey’s mother).

There’s also Ana de Armas (memorable as Marta, Thrombey’s primary-caregiver), Lakeith Stanfield (Detective Lieutenant Elliot), Noah Segan (Trooper Wagner), Frank Oz (Thrombey’s attorney), Edi Patterson (Fran, Thrombey’s housekeeper), M. Emmet Walsh (Thrombey’s groundskeeper) and Marlene Forte (Marta’s mother).

Daniel Craig, as the private eye, builds his case slowly, almost two slowly, interviewing each family member one by one. The movie is front-loaded with these scenes, which seem to occupy fully one-third to one-half. The effect is akin to an episode of ABC TV’s “20/20” or NBC-TV’s “Dateline” with lots of head-and-shoulders shots of seated family members opposite Craig.

Fortunately, “Knives Out” picks up the pace midway to three-quarters of the way through the movie and the movie ends rather spectacularly with a conclusion that should please fans of Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and of movies based on their novels.

Benoit Blanc, as played by Daniel Craig, may not quite be a Sherlock Holmes, but he comes close to being the modern-day equivalent. It’s a nifty role for Craig, who is down-home country in tweedy attire, with a Kentucky-fried southern accent and impish charm.

It’s a far cry from Craig’s smooth roles as master British spy James Bond (“Casino Royale,” 2006; “Quantum of Solace,” 2008; “Skyfall,” 2012; “Spectre,” 2015, and “No Time to Die,” set for 2020 release and believed to be Craig’s last Bond role).

Armas (“Blade Runner 2049,” 2017) is engaging as the young nurse aide, who becomes an aide to Blanc during his investigation.

Evans (Captain America-Steve Rogers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including “Avengers: Endgame,” 2019; is terrific as the grandson, playing the role of a despicable person, which is against the type of roles he usually plays.

Plummer is superb as elderly novelist Thrombey.

“Knives Out’ is told, as mentioned here, via interviews of family members, which key flashback scenes referencing what they are talking about. The flashbacks are necessary, but the movie really gets flashy when the plot unfolds in near real-time.

Rian Johnson (director, “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi,” 2017; “Looper,” 2012; “Brick,” 2005) has fashioned a genuine suspense thriller.

With the exception of the aforementioned slow-moving scenes, once “Knives Out” gets rolling, it’s on target.

“Knives Out” should be enjoyed by fans of Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and mystery whodunits. I defy you to figure out the surprise ending. You may have to see the movie twice to do so.

When Daniel Craig gives up the 007 role as James Bond, there’s another steady gig waiting for him, that of a modern-day private investigator. Blanc. Benoit Blanc.

“Knives Out,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material; Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama; Run time: 2 hr., 11 min. Distributed by Lionsgate.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Knives Out” was filmed on location in Maynard, Marlborough, Natick (Thrombey mansion exteriors and rooms), Medfield, Boston and North Easton, Mass. (the latter at the Ames Borderland Mansion for the interior of the Thrombey House library). The Rolling Stones’ “Sweet Virginia” is heard during the closing credits.

Box Office, Feb. 7-9: “Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn,” starring Oscar nominee (for “Bombshell”) Margot Robbie, made room at No. 1 for what is one of the longest movie titles in the history of cinema, with $33.3 million, one week, ending the three-week No. 1 run of “Bad Boys For Life,” which dropped one place, $12 million, $166.3 million, four weeks, as “1917” (10 Oscar nominations, with three wins) dropped one place, $9 million, $132.5 million, seven weeks.

4. “Doolittle” dropped one place, $6.7 million, $642 million, three weeks. 5. “Jumanji: The Next Level” moved up one place, $5.5 million, $298.5 million, nine weeks. 6. “The Gentlemen” dropped one place, $4.2 million, $26.9 million, three weeks. 7. “Gretel & Hansel” dropped three places, $3.5 million, $11.5 million, two weeks. 8. “Knives Out” (One Oscar nomination) moved up three places, $2.4 million, $158.8 million, 11 weeks. 9.. “Little Women” (six Oscar nominations) stayed in place, $2.3 million, $102..7 million, seven weeks. 10. “Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker” (three Oscar nominations) dropped three places, $3.2 million, $507 million, seven weeks.

Weekend box office results are based on reporting as of Feb. 2 by the Internet Movie Database and Box Office Mojo websites.

Unreel, Feb.14

“Sonic the Hedgehog,” PG: Jeff Fowler directs Jim Carrey, Ben Schwartz, James Marsden and Neal in the Science-Fiction Adventure. The videogame cartoon character is brought to the big screen.

“Downhill,” R: Nat Faxon and Jim Rash direct Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto and Zoe Chao in the comedy about a ski vacation to the Alps gone awry.

“Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island,” PG-13: Jeff Wadlow directs Lucy Hale, Maggie Q, Portia Doubleday and Michael Rooker in the Horror film. It’s an adpation of the 1970s television show about a magical resort island that’s been given a horror film twist.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes