3 Stars — Thought-provoking

“Knives Out” is a classic murder mystery: There is a wealthy family with myriad foibles and secrets. There is the doting nurse of the victim as well as a nosey housekeeper. There are inept police who are easily convinced. And there is a genius detective who is seldom fooled but instead works relentlessly to solve the case.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson (“Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi”), the story focuses on the family and fortune of murder mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Extremely successful, Harlan is a self-made man who not only owns his own mansion but his own publishing company. The problem is that he has been so doting on his children and grandchildren that they are emotionally and ethically dwarfed human beings.

His oldest daughter is Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), who claims to have become a self-made woman like her father. But she is married to a cheating husband, Richard (Don Johnson), and their son Hugh Ransom (Chris Evans), is a classic spoiled rich kid with a playboy lifestyle to match his good looks. Harlan’s son Walt (Michael Shannon) is the CEO of Harlan’s production company who is married to Donna (Riki Lindhome), and they have a son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell).

Walt has ideas to turn the books into films but is thwarted by his father. To round out the family is Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), the window of Harlan’s deceased son, with her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford). Each in their own way has reason to be a suspect.

The genius detective, speaking with a Southern drawl, is Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Having been hired anonymously through an envelope with cash and a news article of Harlan’s death, we discover that his father was also a detective and a good friend of Harlan’s. The nurse is an immigrant’s daughter named Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), and the housekeeper is Fran (Edi Patterson).

We won’t spoil the mystery, but it is a story placed mostly in a mansion with hidden rooms and ever-present knives like a game of Clue. This setting is a part of the tale due in part to its bizarre artifacts reminding Harlan of the many mysteries and murders he has imagined, but also because it has become the identity for the family.

“Knives Out” is more than an enjoyable visual game of Clue, but it is at least that. The depth of the story is told in the relationships of this deformed family with their lack of integrity. This human failing is juxtaposed with a truly kindhearted and honest individual. That contrast in itself is a mystery worth considering.


» The clues given throughout the film are both obvious and satisfying. Were you surprised with the ending? Why or why not?

» The fact that new wealth can destroy the next generation is common, with 70 percent of wealth being lost by the second generation and 90 percent by the third. Would that happen in your family? Why or why not?

» Harlan was trying to help his family. Do you agree with his plan?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.