Who dun it? Rian Johnson dun it.
Mysteries are arguably one of the most fun genres to watch because it actively forces you to pay attention and put the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out just what the hell is going on. We are far from the days of Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express (the good one), but every now and then an attempt comes along attempting to keep the genre alive and fresh.
Rian Johnson, director of Brick, Looper, and The Last Jedi has crafted a hilariously clever experience that captures the energy of Golden Age mystery thrillers in a way many other modern movies have struggled to do. Knives Out follows the investigation into the most likely suicide/possible murder of esteemed mystery writer, Harlan Thrombey. Everyone in the wealthy Thrombey family are suspects, and what an ensemble of suspects we have here. Johnson has assembled some of the best actors working today, including the likes of Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon and Toni Collette just to name a few, each turning in a deliciously cheesy performance that doesn’t delve into the realm of parody, but certainly succeeds at entertaining. The members of Harlan’s family all seem to have a motive for his murder and are constantly at one another’s throats. They’re a joy to watch, from Collette’s ditzy lifestyle guru Jodi, to Shannon’s insecure and abrasive Walt.
Leading this incredible crew are lead performances by Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig. Armas portrays Marta, Harlan’s caring and hardworking personal nurse. Marta purposefully feels like an outsider amongst the wealthy, well dressed members of the Thrombey family. While her character did feel flat and one-note at times, she still remains a pivotal and important piece to the plot. We follow her journey through this mystery the closest, and seeing how she fits into the grand scheme of things is quite entertaining to watch. This is only heightened by her inability to lie (it makes her puke as a matter of fact), adding an interesting element to her assistance in the investigation under the direction of detective Beniot Blanc.
Speaking of Mr. Blanc, this is where, in my opinion, the most entertaining performance in the whole film resinates from. Blanc is portrayed by current James Bond superstar Daniel Craig. When we first meet him, we’re under the impression that this will be another smooth-talking British role that we’ve come to know Craig for.
Then he opens his mouth. Gone is the suave English dialect we’ve come accustomed to expecting from him. In it’s place is a hokey, deep-fried, Colonel Sanders-esque Kentucky accent that’s downright ridiculous and cheesy in all the right ways. I never found the accent to be overbearing or too forced, and it only helped to solidify Blanc as an often confident, sometimes goofy detective who always seemed to be two steps ahead of everyone else.
But what’s the point in talking about a murder mystery if we aren’t going to talk about the mystery itself. From the beginning it looks like it will be a by- the-numbers ordeal. A man is murdered, everyone has a motive, and the detectives must find the clues to nab the culprit. However, Johnson instead decides to the veer away from this cliche course in a way I wasn’t entirely expecting.
Not even halfway through the film, he just shows you what happenend.
Gone is the initial belief of what the main mystery is, as the director seemingly gives you everything you think you need to make you think you’ve got it. As the story continues to unfold, however, you begin to get reeled back in as the answer you originally had might not seem entirely true. Things are rarely exactly what they seem, and never is this more true than in this film. The final “Ah-Ha!” moment is, admittedly, not as mind blowing or game changing as I was hoping for, but it’s still entertaining to watch the movie unravel itself through its tightly woven and near-bulletproof story.
There’s more to take away from this film than just a good time at the movies. Much of the film’s themes and world-building is heavily inspired by current events and mindsets that many people hold on both sides of the battlefield. While these never really overtake the direction of the story, these elements can be found sprinkled into dialogue and actions throughout the film that further accentuate the humor and direction for many of the characters. Yet, the conversation on the wealth divide is incredibly apparent in the roots of the story and take center stage much more later in the film.
It’s refreshing to see a genre like this still managing to stay alive years after some of the best mind-benders had been written. Rian Johnson continues to prove himself to be a talented, out-of-the-box director that will hopefully continue to flourish in the coming years. Knives Out may be his most entertaining outing yet, with this film being one of my favorite 2019 theater experiences. And if it means we can get more Kentucky Fried Craig in the near future, then this film will easily find a home in the halls of the greatest films ever made.
Thrombey Old Fashioned
Ah, the Old Fashioned. A simple cocktail that’s been around since the late 1800s, made up mostly of bourbon but supported by hints of sugar, fruit and bitters. It’s an essential classic in mixology and, personally, one of my favorite cocktails out there. For this drink, I wanted to add a bit of a twist to an already established formula, similarly to what Knives Out does to the murder mystery genre.
In place of the usual sugar found in the common Old Fashioned, this cocktail utilizes brown sugar to give a sweet caramel taste and a warm feeling in your body with every sip. An additional garnish of a cinnamon stick is also recommended to fully encapsulate the Massachusetts autumn that Knives Out resides in.
It’s the perfect drink to sip by the fire with a sweater and blanket on and your favorite mystery novel in hand. As Harlan would say, this is the good stuff.
- 2 shots of bourbon
- 1 tsp of brown sugar
- 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
- 1 tsp of water
- Orange peel
- Cocktail cherry
- Cinnamon stick
- In an old fashion or rocks glass, add water, brown sugar and bitters to a glass. Muddle until the sugar dissolves fully.
- Add bourbon and ice to glass, then stir.
- Add orange peel, cinnamon stick and cherry for garnish.