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Knives Out (Movie Review)

A Popcorn Puzzler with the Nutritional Value of Popcorn Itself

About the Film

Lots of people enjoy entertainment that challenges them to solve a crime. Film and television feature three kinds of mysteries, and Knives Out (2019) falls into the third category, which will frustrate some viewers and delight others:

1.) When the audience knows the villains but watches to see if the main characters can discover them,

2.) When neither the audience nor the characters know “whodunit” but the mystery could be solved with the information presented in the first part of the show.

3.) When the mystery is impossible to solve because the entertainment simultaneously withholds needed info and feeds out red herrings (or even misinformation) until the very end.

Some trailers portrayed Knives Out as a horror film, but it is strictly a comedic crime-solver, even a lightweight one! The first act positions it as a multiple perspective mystery in the style of Clue (1985) but transforms into a more standard mystery in the second and final acts. Each actor seems to be having a great time leaning into their roles’ over-the-top stereotypes, with Daniel Craig butchering a Southern American accent with relish. If this were a Thanksgiving dinner, the main meat would be HAM.

For Consideration

On the Surface—(Profanity, sexual content, violence, etc.)

The profanity of this PG-13 movie struck me as harsh, insofar as characters used the language not as throw-away comments or to describe situations but rather to curse other people. No blood-letting is shown on screen, but the aftermath of an attack is shown in which a person suffers a seizure. One person chunkily vomits on another, although it is played for laughs. No sexual situations are shown but they are discussed, including by a teenager.

Beneath the Surface—(Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)

  1. What Do We Call Wanting Someone Else’s Money?

“The rich have many friends, the poor have none.” Knives Out shows that this ancient Jewish proverb still speaks accurately to 21st-century humanity. Some mystery shows portray suspects who have a wide variety of motives; the characters of Knives Out all share the same motive: greed. So while they may not be complicit in the murder of their wealthy patriarch, they ultimately act like what you call a pack of vultures, “a wake”. I believe the movie actually intends for audiences to see it as a social statement on a particular issue in 2019 America, but that issue is not actually the fairness or rightness of socialism. Instead, Knives Out wants to make a point about negative reactions to illegal immigration, of all things.

2. Straw Man Arguments from Gross Character’s Mouths

Yes, while the movie’s plot would synchronize well with the purported pros and cons of socialism, it instead wishes to speak not of illegal immigration but of anti-illegal immigration. In this area the film fails, not because it preaches but because it breaks one of the prime laws of logic by using strawman arguments. A strawman argument is easy to burn because it misrepresents an opponents’ actual positions or perspectives. Knives Out paints most of its characters as inhumane but simultaneously places arguments against illegal immigration in their mouths, and the movie’s clear intention is to make concerns about illegal immigration look ridiculous because these crummy characters voice such poor reasons to be against it. A better path for this movie would have been either to bypass trying to “make a point” at all or to have engaged in more intellectually honest sparring which would have left viewers feeling somewhat challenged. As is, Knives Out slings its unneeded arguments both dubiously and illogically. The movie does not seem to recognize that its final shot, showing the heroine drinking coffee from a mug which has “my house, my rules” written on it, symbolically undercuts its actual message.

Final Verdict

Knives Out is not a movie people are likely to re-watch in 20 years or even 10, but it is a generally fun romp when it can bring itself not to be preachy. When it is preachy, it feels like being stuck at a holiday table with family who are bickering with bad arguments on both sides. Of course, grown-ups able or willing to go along with its portrayal of anti-illegal-immigration will likely enjoy it more. Everyone else will likely find they have spent a couple but forgettable hours. 

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