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Whereas the recent Murder on the Orient Express attempts to revitalise the classic whodunit story, Knives Out is by far the more accurate and effective pastiche. Nowadays modern movie and television demands there has to be some major emotional journey for the detective to follow (Orient Express, the Sherlock series), to the point where it overshadows the actual mystery plot. Knives Out is resolutely old fashioned, and by being so, is surprisingly refreshing. Finally we have a movie that ignores all of that nonsense and focuses on the mystery; the thing we're actually here for.
Specifically, the story starts with the mysterious circumstances of the death of Hanlan, an eccentric and fabulously wealthy murder mystery writer. His mansion is full of dysfunctional relatives and hangers-on, each with their own claim to Hanlan's wealth. Knives Out wears its influences on its sleeves: one character describes Hanlan's mansion as "the Clue House", and other characters dip into episodes of Murder She Wrote. No one calls Daniel Craig's detective "Poirot", but they might as well; he's the Kentucky version of the character, albeit with more accent and less moustache.
Whilst Craig and the other big name actors are poised to steal the show, Ana De Armas turns out to be the stealth protagonist, turning in a performance as the hapless former nurse to Hanlan. Much of the story is built around a peculiar physical quirk of hers that puts her front and centre of the murder case, and keeps her in constant jeopardy. To say more would be spoiling, but suffice to say she is the real star. Then there's the mansion, which is a character in-and-of itself, crammed to the rafters with sculptures and secrets. In the centre is a giant knife sculpture that might as well have been signed by Anton Chekhov.
I had a lot of fun with Knives Out. It's a silly and humble movie that's well worth the price of admission. Also, unlike - again - Murder on the Orient Express which blatantly cheats, Knives has a functional mystery that you are invited to figure out for yourself. I even managed to get about half of it right, so you should give the movie a try and see if you can do better.
Didn't think of it like that, but it was a good move by the film to have Blanc as the supporting straightforward detective (but market him as the main character), allowing him to be truer to the trope, and Marta as the stealth protagonist with the emotional journey.
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