Knives Out ( English, 2019) — Political Murder With Chekov’s Knife
After that final shot of Marta on the balcony, you get that same feeling after watching an ‘oddly satisfying’ compilation video on YouTube. You are also urged to appreciate because of how even the small and purported insignificant occupants (both human-related and inanimate) of the screen have been tied up to the entirety of the film seamlessly and, most importantly, visibly. The red herrings, distractions and indoctrinating the viewer with false supposition early on to divert them from important questions are all staples of a proper murder mystery. And all of them were incorporated in this film without much hassle or intentional complication to put on a disguise of faux brilliance. The movie never tries to be more than what it is. Stayed true to its simplicity. Checked all the points that make for a good whodunit. The visual clues, motifs, and foreshadowings were all on point. Not everything in this is straightforward. There are subtexts, which is apparent. Unless you are well versed in the local politics of the USA and the volatile yet vilifying part, internet political clamoring, most of it will all be lost on you. That does not mean all is wasted. There are some in the face commentary which may lead you to a couple or more hidden subtexts. But all of this is complementing or adding a flavor. They want to tell you a story about a murder and guide through the process of breaking it down and catching the culprit. And that is what they did with casual humor and moderately paced tension.
There are no intricacies to dissect and distinguish. So let me venture a guess as to why this movie is satisfying despite giving nothing we have not seen before.
The set designs. Such grandeur has opted for a journey into the world of a crime novelist. Everything about that house seemed perfect for a murder. It suited the simplicity of the case itself with its architecture. A single staircase, one hidden window, a convenient mud trail, and good old-fashioned CCTV. More than a house that facilitates this murder, it was a museum of crime literature and cinema history. All the archetype murder mystery setting has been given a nod. Also, a gothic tone was prevalent in the mansion. For the first few mins, the orchestration in the background was the appetizer. It kindled the mood for the course. Then with that music (bearing nostalgia of murder mystery novels, shows, and movies) still in your head, the close-up shots of intimidating statues, portentous presence of the canvas and of course, Knife Circle Sculpture carried shouldered it all. You could say such opulence had no relevance to the plot. But that is where you miss what a film is all about. This movie does not have a complex and rigidly entangled storyline. It was so basic. When you don’t have heavy content, you enhance the style. That is what happened here. The massive and meticulously constructed set design with its fake novel names and gloomy yet splendid decor keeps you subconsciously in the film.
And speaking of subconscious traps, let us take a look at the crime itself, instead of picking it apart as analysis. It starts with the usual interrogations. And in these questioning sessions, what the detective character has no knowledge of is made available to us. And this scheme in itself comes in handy during the middle to divert our line of the guesswork from the real criminal. They also gave some form of the unusual condition (Vomiting habit of Marta as she can’t lie without puking) which gets tied up to the end in an impeccable fashion. What starts as a family affair in the first half of the film becomes more or less a duo ride of Marta and Detective Blanc (Daniel Craig). More incredulous events occur. Their incredulity begets from the fact that we are already given definitive proof of the crime and criminal. This facade is immaculately shattered in the climax. There is a thin line between spoon-feeding and irritable vagueness. This crime treads on those lines in elegant strides. All the links and clues are so explicit. But until they are linked, you don’t know they could be connected. Nevertheless, you can promptly identify them once pointed out. The offense itself is rudimentary, but it is not boring. It is interesting. Not because the murderer concocted a brilliant plan. The devil lies in the damn details. More than the criminal, when his ploy is unraveled, there is an obvious surprise. But above that, you immediately visualize all those connections, even those which would have been spurned away as normal filler aspects of filmmaking. So the interest arises from how all the pieces fit into place, including the unexpected ones. You are surprised as well as pleased with yourself because you were able to string altogether. Then what about before discovering all these strings? How did the movie keep you hooked despite being basic with everything? Yes, the story kept flinging new information continuously at a considerably quicker pace at the viewer. Some were predictable, others were not. But there should be concrete evidence more than that feeling of uncertainty. That is where the performance and a little politics takes the stage.
The ensemble was the selling point of the movie. Mostly ensembles turn out to be the mitigating factor of those films with big names. But here, the screenplay was already good. And so was the direction. So what they bring to the table should have been embellishments. But that is where experience disagrees. They bought humor and the mild daftness of the rich. This is evident when Ransom (Chris Evans) joins the party for the will reading session. Hilarity ensues out of nowhere. It was not contrived. He was absent for close to an hour into the film. Only glimpses were allowed. Yet the actors were able to convey his oddity and incongruity concerning the family with that scene. These characters are not infallible. They have their secret transgressions. At the same time, they are not a diabolical bunch either. The only balance between that two is humor-filled daftness, This amusing stupidity goes as far as shielding the real culprit. So that itself should be a testament to the contribution of the actors to the story.
Finally, the sub-textual undertone and overtone and that which it is not direct. Indeed, it is the core idea of it all. Politics. They are deeply enmeshed in the screenplay. Their entanglement has the plausibility to afflict the guesses of a viewer if he/she is mildly familiar with the context. I could reach a step further and hazard an assumption that anyone who pledges their undivided attention for a film would be sure to eliminate suspects merely by following the trail of politics. The director has tried to mask it as a ‘ political’ flick. But it is an educational video on immigration border lining propaganda. Underneath all the suspense, this is about an immigrant and the obliviousness that is prevalent about them. However, this serves as a model for other similar ideas like this; How to window dress a particular topic with alluring and exciting narration. You retain the politics as well as other antics of the movie after its completion. Neither of them should undermine the other, and it did not in this case.
A thoroughly engaging suspense film that is, in fact, political. It has probably educated you. It definitely satisfied you. And for that blend itself, this makes the cut.