A Cutting Play
Stars: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer, Frank Oz and M. Emmet Walsh
Director/Scriptwriter: Rian Johnson
Composer: Nathan Johnson
Cinematography: Steve Yedin
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 132 Minutes
Agatha Christie would have liked “Knives Out.” It has the detective, the helpless accused of a murder, a wealthy man, the family who gains but loses when a will is read and the old house with corridors and noises and you name it. If this film had been done in the 1920’s, the captions would have read “Swords Ready!” As it is, see Daniel Craig with a southern drawl, Don Johnson and Chris Evans having too much fun here and Jamie Lee Curtis could cut through stone with her gaze. Is the audience ready?
Within a large cast, there are several principals. Harlan (Christopher Plummer) is a rich, old man who needs a nurse, Fran (Ana de Armas) to take care of him. He becomes fond of her and her sense of humor. In the meantime, the family, with greed in their eyes, waits and waits and waits for his demise. There is the grandson, Hugh (Chris Evans who also played “Captain America”), Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) Harlan’s daughter and her husband, Richard (Don Johnson), Walter (Michael Shannon) Harlan’s son, Joni (Toni Collette) the widow of a deceased son of Harlan’s, Meg (Katherine Langford) Harlan’s grand-daughter and Jacob (Jaeden Martell) Harlan’s grandson. So, you see, there are plenty of people waiting and waiting. Suddenly, it happens, and was it natural or suicide or murder? In comes a detective from down south, Blanc (Daniel Craig) who tries to figure things out as accusations are tossed about. There are car chases, sarcastic quips, accusations, blackmail and everything designed to befuddle the police and audience. You must listen and watch closely in this film, or you may miss something important. As one says, “This is like being in a “Clue” game!” There is even a reference to Hallmark movies. And as an extra, Fran the nurse has to always tell the truth, or she will vomit. Hmm.
Director Rian Johnson turns his cast loose and follows them with a camera. Never a dull moment, and everyone is a suspect in a house that could be an actor in the film, too. Brooding vistas, long, heavy drapes, a roof with many angles and windows. Sometimes the plot seems to go in too many places at once, but be patient, things will change and Daniel Craig is observant, and when he waits in a car, he sings. Is there anyone in this family who has clean hands? Patriarch Harlan (Christopher Plummer) wonders about that. Children don’t always grow up and marry right and their children become yet, another story.
The cast includes many top Hollywood names, and several come forward. Christopher Plummer is masterful, as always, with a scheming mind. Daniel Craig is called in to solve things, and his patient and slow way are the opposite of the 007 characters he has portrayed. He is relaxed in this role, as is Don Johnson, who also has portrayed a law person and now goes to the other end of the spectrum. It is Chris Evans who gets attention. Playing “Captain America” complete with helmet and shield, you don’t recognize him in street clothes and playing an arrogant playboy. Jamie Lee Curtis, could slice a silver tray with her gaze, and brings order to the group. Toni Collette is the person, by marriage, who is unwelcome here, and she knows it. What to do? Another unwelcome person is the personal maid to Plummer. Does she know family secrets or not? How to ask? In the meantime, Ana de Armas plays a confused, though thoughtful, Marta, who has to put on many faces to get through the day. Yes, just another will reading, until the last sentence is spoken. Frank Oz, as the attorney, looks as though he is ready to dash out of that room immediately.
There are narrow escapes, car chases, and though one would wish the Keystone Kops were included, alas, they must have been busy. “Knives Out” does go on a bit longer and there are one too many running down corridors and driving from one place to another, but as a whole the film pays off with humor, mayhem, and shows us families to whom “entitlement” is their middle name. Don’t fall asleep in this film.
P.S. Look for Ana Armas in the next Daniel Craig, 007 (James Bond) film.
Copyright 2020 Marie Asner