Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 29, 2019 1:46 pm 
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New wine in old bottles

Rian Johnson's new movie is an all-star whodunit in the style of Agatha Christie set in a large Gothic Revival mansion out of Clue. Action revolves around the dubious death of a bestselling mystery writer, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) and the question as to who shall inherit his vast fortune after he is found with his throat slit after his 85th birthday party. At first it's declared a suicide: but how many old codgers do away with themselves by cutting their own throats?

Anyway, there is a knife collection among the household's goodies, displayed in a fanned-out archway like the Iron Throne in "Game of Thrones," and the whole mood is set early on as cutthroat. There are more twists and turns than you'd get in several conventional mystery novels, references to many movie mystery genres, and it's all entertaining, teasing, and great fun. There's more than that, though. This is not just overstuffed retro entertainment. Dave Erlich of Indiewire says it "wants you to know that it takes place in the world of today" and constitutes "a sharp takedown of white entitlement."

How so? Well, the house is full of family members juggling for position as well as spouses, hangers-on, and the occasional employee with benefits - notably Latina personal nurse to Harlan, Marta (Ana de Armas, whose delicate Cuban-Spain accent I relished), and of course a policeman Lt. Eliott (Sorry to Bother You's LaKeith Stanfield, somewhat wasted here), a Massachusetts State Police Trooper (Noah Segan), and the essential master of ceremonies, a seemingly bumbling, actually all-knowing master sleuth with a thick southern drawl, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). That's a continual chuckle, this drawl coming from the very Brit mouth of James Bond. But the battling relatives element has credutably led to comparisons of this action with the setup of the high-hostility HBO series "Succession" - if Logan Roy, that drama's corporate emperor played inimitably by Brian Cox, had died of his stroke at the outset instead of surviving to reign on. (This cast has more famous names than the series.)

Members of the household have their own little empires, which have been fed by Harlan's success. Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) has a thriving real estate business whose startup Harlan funded. Her husband is smug philanderer Richard (Don Johnson), who's also a Trump supporter. The other right-winger Jacob (Jaeden Martell), a teenager who's a fledgling Ben Shapiro busy trolling liberals on social media. He's the son of Linnda's brother Walt (Michael Shannon), who manages his father's publishing empire, but not very independently. Another Harlan daughter is Joni (Toni Collette), a lifestyle guru with a wellness empire who deeply believes in her own hokum.

The sociopolitical pivot point is Marta, whose mother is apparently illegal, and who is the underdog closer to the deceased than most of the supposed insiders. They take turns misidentifying which Latin American country Marta's family comes from and making clueless remarks about immigrants. Blanc, whose hire for pay remains mysterious, takes Marta on early as his Dr. Watson, though her relationship to the tragic event emerges as highly fraught. A late-arrival central figure is Linda and Richard's son Ransom (Chris Evans), a defiant playboy and black sheep of the family whose carefree lifestyle is frowned upon by the clan, who like to regard themselves quite falsely as self-made - an aspect that indeed resonates with the dramatis personae of "Succession."

As David Rooney says in his [Hollywood Reporter review, the natural skill at "dizzying trickery" that was embedded even in the title of Johnson's 2012 Looper may have "found its ideal form" in this film. Beyond that, though, Johnson's dazzlingly witty and referential script uses an old fashioned genre as a vessel to contain constant reminders of the political and social world in which we live now. And that's a fresh and welcome feat.

Knives Out, 130 mins., debuted Sept. 7, 2019 at Toronto, and played in a dozen other festivals. It opened in French (AlloCiné press 3.8), UK, and US theaters Nov. 27, 2019. Metascore 82%.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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