This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Joe Tomastik’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
I saw Knives Out again last night, and it was even better the second time around. Since there was a lot to say about the story that I obviously couldn’t in a spoiler-free review, let’s unpack my most prevalent thoughts completely unfiltered.
The most notable thing about this story that I love is how it both is and isn’t a whodunnit. We find out roughly thirty minutes in that Marta – Ana de Armas’s character – accidentally overdosed Harlan on morphine, and he in turn quickly set up an elaborate ruse and committed suicide to keep Marta safe from any charges. Especially since she comes from an illegally immigrated family that could be torn apart if she’s arrested (more on that later). First of all, it actually makes sense that he could come up with all of this so quickly, given that he’s a mystery writer. Secondly, this quickly throws the mystery of who the killer was out the window … which I was happy with. But I think it was done a bit too early. This is the scene I referred to before as being better off shown later on. I think that it should have been shown to us when Marta is confessing to Ransom at the restaurant. If it was put there, and everything else stayed the same, then watching Marta clearly try and sabotage the investigation and hide evidence would seemingly make clear that she was the killer, having us even more on edge as the scenes play out. It just felt like a missed opportunity to really have us second-guessing everything she does, while still allowing her to be a protagonist we can root for once we know the truth.
But that issue aside, this reveal turns the entire movie into a mystery within a mystery: that is, is there even a mystery at all? Is it really as straightforward as it was shown to be, or are there more pieces to the puzzle? In Blanc’s words, the donut hole was filled with another donut with another donut hole (yeah, that wasn’t my favorite joke in the movie). This is what makes the movie feel so refreshing as a whodunit; it sets you up for one way of thinking only to force your mind to switch gears early on, and yet it still gives you all the puzzling dilemmas that a more straightforward movie of this type would give. Blanc comes in seeming to assume that something is afoot. Like the audience, he’s going by the basic trappings that a setup like this would come with. And seeing someone like him enter this environment that’s far simpler than it appears in some ways and yet far more complicated than it appears in other ways is a lot of fun.
And in the end, it’s revealed that Ransom had switched the medicine bottles intending to have Marta accidentally kill Harlan in order to stop her from getting his inheritance … and yet because she accidentally switched them back, Harlan killed himself in vain. That’s so sad and dark, yet at the same time it clears Marta’s name even further. Blanc states that she would have known the difference between the medicines anyway, because she’s just a good, attentive nurse. She was totally innocent, and the second half of the movie is essentially Ransom trying to set her up in a different way when he realizes this. And given that Harlan says himself that he sees himself in his grandson, it once again makes sense that he could concoct something like this.
So really, this entire movie is Marta being targeted and attacked because of greed and bitterness. The first half is the initial plan, and the second half is the new, improvised plan, both of which you can totally see fooling this narrow-minded family since it fits into their perceptions of Marta. And yet by just being the goodhearted person she is, Marta dodged almost every bullet without even knowing it. Whether it be knowing the right medicine, being a good friend to Harlan, trying to save Fran, she rose above the twisted webs Ransom put her through.
I was suspicious of Ransom from the moment Harlan’s mother said to Marta, “Ransom? You’re back again?” I thought to myself, ‘Again? Was he here before?’ And when he drove off with Marta and assured her that he wanted to help her, my suspicions grew. Even though he says he’s doing it to spite his family, he seemed way too self-serving to be so generous and understanding to her. I just didn’t know how he played a role in any of it, which kept a good chunk of the fun going for me.
But there’s a whole other dimension to all this, in that the movie doubles as an allegory for how immigrants are treated. We have here a family of people who claim to have built their lives from the ground up, despite clearly having had help from their patriarch (the line “million-dollar loan” was even uttered, haha). They were set up to be well off from the moment they were born – in other words, they were privileged. And in Joni’s case, she makes herself even more privileged by deceptive, criminal means. Their corrupt thinking is even breeding something even worse in their youngest generation (Jacob). But in enters the immigrant, who they claim they’ll be good to and accept as one of their own … as long as she’s the one relying on them and not the other way around. Once those tables turn, however, they reveal their greed and entitlement. It doesn’t matter that they should be able to trust her to help them; they don’t have the power anymore, and that’s all that matters. In Ransom’s case, he’ll go as far as to set someone up for murder. In order to keep himself where he is, he’ll blame the immigrant for everything bad that happens, making her out as the problem that needs to go … This all sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
But thankfully, in the end, Marta can look out from her new balcony, while the rich, corrupt family now have to look up at her. It’s a great visual to end the movie on, as is the shot of her standing in the empty house, all of it now belonging to her. The riches and resources go to the person who truly deserves it, not the people who were just born into it. Don’t get me wrong, I think that there’s a lot more grey area to the issue of immigration than this. But it’s an allegory, so of course it’s going to be somewhat simplified. And they do show that some of the Thrombey family have good in them, particularly Meg, who’s caught between her morals and her fears.
Even if I don’t agree with all of the political stances the movie takes, I still highly appreciate and enjoy it for how cleverly done it is and how it elevates the story and gives it something to say. Or even if you don’t want to connect it to politics – though I don’t know how it’s possible not to – you can still just see it as a good soul triumphing over a rotten family. It’s cleverly woven into the story enough to allow any interpretation to be valid.
Also, upon rewatch, I caught a lot of great, subtle moments of foreshadowing. How Harlan scoffs that Ransom wouldn’t know the difference between a fake knife and a real one; how he seemed to not be affected at all by the morphine (something I thought was odd even on first viewing); how Blanc says that a dog is the best judge of character and they later act aggressively towards Ransom; and the reasons I stated earlier for suspecting Ransom. As one would hope, it’s such a fun movie to rewatch and pick up on little hints like that, and I suspect that I’ll pick up on even more in subsequent viewings.
I’ve also heard some people say that they were disappointed with how under-utilized a lot of the cast was. While I’ll admit that it’s strange to get such powerhouse actors in relatively minor roles (especially Lakeith Stanfield), I figured that a lot of them would be sidelined. Far more often than not, an all-star cast can be deceptive since you still need to have a focus, which usually is a select few characters. So it doesn’t bother me, especially when they have their own moments to shine, especially in the first act.
Overall, Knives Out was an extremely fun film to watch, but an even more fun film to rewatch. And I’m so happy to hear that it’s doing as well as it is, reminding us that wholly original movies do still have a place in the mainstream. If you’ve already seen it (which I’d hope you have if you’re reading this), go out and see it again, because there’s still quite a bit to unravel even when you know the answers.