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Wed, Dec. 11

Review: ‘Knives Out’ beckons Agatha Christie mystery fans

From left, Daniel Craig, Noah Segan and LaKeith Stanfield are shown in Knives Out.

From left, Daniel Craig, Noah Segan and LaKeith Stanfield are shown in Knives Out.

Acclaimed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead in his study following his 85th birthday bash. Investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) appears on the scene flanked by a duo of police detectives to finger the culprit from a gaggle of Harlan’s disgruntled children and grandchildren. The wild card is Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), who can’t tell a lie without regurgitating her meal – literally. Allied with Hugh Ransom (Chris Evans), Marta works to keep her secret despite mounting family hostilities after the reading of Harlan’s will.

For Fans Who Will be Elated by this Agatha Christie Throwback-Homage: 4 out of 5 Butlers

The Butler did it! Only there is no butler in this re-imagining. The vision to update Christie’s pennings with contemporary issues finds the trope of the butler replaced by Marta Cabrera, a nurse who has developed a genial relationship with Harlan. The star-studded cast are underwhelming individually but collectively they provide a cacophony of family dysfunction that is brilliantly executed.

While you may figure out whodunit, the suspense that obscures Marta’s attempts to hold down her lunch as she backtracks her steps with Blanc fast on her heels will leave some viewers on the edge of their seats. The film fastidiously intertwines nearly every murder mystery plot convention and galvanizes it in modern language, contemporary settings and legal terms.

Captain America’s Chris Evans tosses his shield for a dastardly portrayal as the family’s bougie brat, Ransom. The screen beckons for more of his misdeeds as the villainous eye candy you love to hate.

Fans of Daniel Craig will be enamored by the Brit’s Mississippi-twang as the swaggering Southern Sherlock who is re-engineered from Christie’s famous Hercule Poirot. Blanc knows whodunit but romps about lording his sleuthtastic skills over the family’s farce.

Craig admits that mimicking any accent is difficult for (him https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=O56wZem2u3Abased) and that he based his accent on the voice of historian Shelby Foote (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=wgFbbTQL13g )

Set in the turn-of-the-20th-century Ames mansion, the set was adorned with an art nouveau piece decorated with hundreds of knives circa the Iron Throne in “Game of Thrones” as a perfect backdrop for the Thrombey’s propensity for backstabbing. History buffs can learn more about the beautiful mansion: http://www.friendsofborderland.org/ames-mansion-tours.html

For Fans Who Don’t Care About the Homage But Love Complex Thrillers: 2 out of 5 Sleuths

The beauty of Christie’s murder mysteries were the written sleights-of-hand that forced readers to analyze each detail of the story and arrive at a plausible suspect. “Knives Out” spoon feeds viewers the answers. It’s not brilliant; it’s convenient. As soon as the movie starts, Connoisseurs of Complex Mysteries will instantly know that Marta will be a person of interest, that there will be a twist surrounding the family patriarch and that Ransom is somehow involved. Daniel Craig’s character is obnoxiously uninteresting and the excessive roll call of characters are wasted; none provide any compelling mystery to the unfolding tale. By the final act, connoisseurs will expect some unexpected provocateur to rise from the wainscoted halls and pull the glaring obvious into a talented duel of wits. It never happens; it’s intellectually disappointing.

Ana de Armas is exceptional and carries the full burden of the film’s wispy suspense. It would have been fun to watch budding actors introduced as the Thrombey heirs rather than endure Hollywood gorging itself needlessly on these A-list starlets.

For Fans of Diversity: 0 out of 5 Brazilians, Uruguayans or Wherever the Family Thinks Marta is From

The insertion of politics related to immigration is tawdry and awkwardly injected. Fans of Diversity will be excited to see the Cuban actress at the helm but rather than be portrayed as an independent professional who is given an inheritance because of friendship, Marta is merely a pawn in Harlan’s final slap-in-the-face to his family who swim in a sea of liberal privilege.

An educated and licensed professional, she is relegated to the margins as “The Help” by the family and becomes a circumstantial protagonist as the family hands her a plate to take after dessert and congratulates her on immigrating “the right way.” Disgruntled by the devastating reveal in Harlan’s will, the family presses Marta to relinquish her inheritance because she “is like family” but they are “his actual family.” They assure Marta that they will “take care of her” if she acquiesces to their increasing hostilities.

While Armas does an excellent job as the frightened, timid, doe-eyed, ever-teary murder suspect, her role perpetuates the notion of the humble, loyal brown servant. Unlike the actual servants in a film such as “Downtown Abbey” who are given carte blanche to enjoy mischief, murder and mayhem, Marta is boxed into “doing the right thing” and “following her heart” despite microagressions from the family. There is a brilliant moment where Marta drinks from a mug that says, “My House, My Rules.”

You can read more about what director and writer Rian Johnson envisioned at https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/knives-director-rian-johnson-tackling-a-whodunnit-1236039

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