| December 02, 2019 02:08 PM
The new film Knives Out is a Clue board game drawn up by Democratic Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. It’s less a mystery film as it is a comment on the wealth trajectory of modern elites. Capitalism has failed us, so I am told. As the old refrain goes: one generation makes the money, the second generation spends the money, and the third loses it.
For the Thrombey family, Knives Out is a lesson in trusts and estates law and a reflection on what “picking yourself up by the bootstraps” really means and requires.
The film follows the investigation of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) into the death of famed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Quirky and eccentric Harlan has found himself in an attic study with his throat slit in an apparent suicide while his family sleeps and slinks about his vast estate following his birthday party — the game’s afoot for 007-turned-Savannah Sherlock Holmes, Daniel Craig. The heart of the story is Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), an immigrant nurse of Thrombey, who finds herself needle-deep in the caper.
And yes, I point out her immigration status because it is of central significance to the plot and political statement of the movie. Rian Johnson’s comment on immigration is surprisingly not a MAGA bashing but rather a polite snub at Upper East Side types by mocking their perception and reception of immigrants.
In one instance, the son of Harlan, Walt (Michael Shannon), tells Marta that when you’re wealthy, you have the resources to protect yourself in all sorts of legal situations, which the obvious implication is that whomever inherits Thrombey’s vast wealth ultimately gains access to resources to shield from realities that most of us are forced to face on a day-to-day. The ridicule of the children of prosperity is exacting as the more immigration-hawkish Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), Thrombey’s son-in-law, mansplains to Marta that, “Immigrants, they get the job done” (orchestra tickets for Hamilton on Broadway as of this writing are a touch north of $300).
The Thrombey children also repeatedly reference that they are familiar with Craig’s character from a profile of him in the New Yorker. The worthlessness of the upper class juxtaposed with salt of the earth characters makes for poignant commentary.
As a film, Knives Out is really watchable. Craig turns in a delightful performance as a fairly competent Boxcar Children-esque private investigator with a Southern drawl he’s been developing since his Logan Lucky days. At one point, Craig monologues, “This case has a huge hole in the middle — a donut,” and proceeds to do a 45-second discussion of donuts that is hysterical. The other gags in the film are equally funny and interesting. Slate has already done a deep dive into whether puking caused by lying is legit. Chris Evans, America’s derriere-in-chief, has exchanged his spandex for a cable-knit sweater and a temporary likability familiar to those of us who’ve spent time with private school types who abbreviate private jets as “PJs.”
Otherwise, the story is fairly straightforward. Absent one plot point that I think was overwritten, the mystery is more observing how Johnson chooses to close the loop on his generational wealth bashing than a whodunit.
Spoiler alert (not really): Instantly inheriting vast sums of wealth is preferable to building an empire all on your own over a lifetime. Though, when you’re sitting on the porch of your vast estate with money in the bank, knifing truffles onto your mac and cheese that a housekeeper prepares for you, and beautiful German Shepherd pups at your feet, I am sure we can have a prolonged discussion of whether money buys happiness.
Tyler Grant (@TyGregoryGrant) is a Young Voices contributor who completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Taiwan. He writes movie reviews for the Washington Examiner.