Chris Evans is a Cut Above in ‘Knives Out’
Spoiler Alert: Copious spoilers and plot details to follow. If you have yet to see the masterpiece that is Knives Out, I urge you to click away now and come back later. For a safe, spoiler-free review from Cape & Castle, click HERE. Consider yourself warned. If you continue reading this article, you will discover Whodunnit.
With Knives Out, Rian Johnson created a cleverly intricate story full of twists, turns and unexpected reveals. It’s also surprisingly funny for a story that starts with the discovery of a corpse and centers on the investigation into how he died. As the movie opens, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), multi-millionaire mystery novelist is found in his home with his throat slit. Local authorities suspect suicide. An anonymously hired private investigator, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), joins the investigation to counter that assumption.
The majority of the first act consists of interviews with several suspects — Harlan’s family members who had attended his birthday party the night of his death. As the suspects are interviewed, the narrative is cleverly written so that the audience sees the same scenes play out multiple times with subtle differences based on which character is recalling the events, influenced by their motivation.
This puts the viewer in the position of trying to deduce the truth along with the detectives. Almost every character has motive for murder. We see the motives revealed in their internal flashback, but each character lies to cover their motive in their interviews. In a fun twist, we know more than the detectives.
In addition to the Thrombey family, detectives also interview Harlan’s private nurse, Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas). We first meet her with her mother and sister in their small, modest apartment. Her home is a stark contrast to the enormous Thrombey family mansion. Blanc quickly zeroes in on Marta, her enormous heart, and her inability to lie. She is kind, seemingly meek, and cared a great deal for Harlan as a friend. We see their close friendship and easy rapport in her flashbacks. Blanc recruits Marta to help his investigation as she was privy to Harlan’s thoughts on his family.
**Here I’ll offer one last warning: Click away now if you’ve dared to read this far, but don’t want to know what happened to Harlan.**
Just as we, the audience, got a glimpse of the true story from each character’s internal flashback, during Marta’s interview we see her memory from that night. While Harlan and Marta were having fun playing a nightly game, Marta accidentally switched two vials of medicine and gave Harlan a lethal overdose. She realized her tragic mistake almost immediately, and told him when she could not find the antidote in her bag.
Harlan, genius mystery writer, concocted an escape and cover-up plan in seconds to protect Marta (and her undocumented mother) from trouble. She protested as he shoved her out of the room with detailed instructions and tips on how to get around lying. As she re-entered the room to argue, she witnessed him slit his own throat. At that point, she had no option other than to follow through with his escape plan.
A GRAND ENTRANCE
Noticeably absent for the interviews, and the entire first act of the movie, is Harlan’s grandson Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans). He is mentioned several times in the interviews and is briefly seen, in identical flashbacks from several characters, as he storms out of the house after arguing with his grandfather. He is discussed with disdain and disapproval from every member of his family, even his own parents. The writing perfectly sets us up to loathe Ransom before we ever lay eyes on him.
Ransom, who skipped the funeral and memorial, shows up to the will reading in a gorgeous long coat, dramatic scarf, and with Harlan’s dogs nipping at him. He’s immediately dismissive to the police, insulting to the housekeeper, and awful to his family members. When his uncle openly accuses him of having a motive to kill his grandfather his parents do the opposite of defend him. It’s made very clear that Ransom has zeroes allies. The capper to his introduction scene is the infamous “Eat Shit!” tirade that blew up the internet last summer.
A TURN OF EVENTS
To the surprise of everyone, the will reading reveals that Harlan changed his will one week prior to his death and left everything to Marta. His money, his publishing company, his house — everything. The Thrombeys, who had previously glowingly spoken of Marta as family, descend upon her like vultures. Everyone except Ransom. Ransom, who revealed during the earlier argument that he knew he had been cut out of the will, laughs his way out of the house. When Marta’s car won’t start, hindering her escape from the yelling Thrombeys, Ransom pulls up next to her in his beemer like the proverbial white knight, rescuing her from danger.
After Marta spills the entire true story to Ransom, they team up to keep her name clear. He agrees to help her keep the money, as long as she gives him the inheritance he expected. They try to outsmart both the detectives who are closing in on the truth, and the anonymous blackmailer who threatens to reveal Marta’s guilt with Harlan’s autopsy blood test result. Things start to go down hill when Ransom is arrested after he and Marta attempt to flee the scene of a fire investigation.
After the blackmailer — the Thrombey housekeeper — is attacked and hospitalized, Marta finally admits the truth to Blanc. Blanc, armed with her full story, is not satisfied, even though her story matches what Ransom told police after his arrest. The puzzle pieces don’t fit. The donut hole doesn’t fit the donut. Marta volunteers to give him the blood test results to prove her guilt, as she knows where the housekeeper stashes her secrets. When Blanc finally reads the test results, the truth reveals itself.
WITH A NAME LIKE RANSOM…
In a scene that is best absorbed through viewing, and not through an amateur recap, we discover that Ransom was behind it all. Ransom switched the meds in the vials in an attempt to frame Marta for murder, not anticipating that she would realize it, and tell Harlan. He also didn’t anticipate Harlan helping to cover for her. Ransom attacked the blackmailer when she tried to blackmail him, not Marta, and then he tried to frame Marta again. Ransom and Marta took the same escape route that night sneaking in and out of the house. Marta, to cover her tracks; Ransom, to switch the vials. It turns out, Ransom is every bit as awful as his family made him out to be. When Marta tricks him into admitting his actions to the police, he tries to kill her too. Tries. And spectacularly fails.
THE Glorious SWEATERS
It is impossible to write about Knives Out these days without mentioning the sweaters. Knives Out began filming only a few weeks after Chris Evans finished filming Avengers: Endgame. It is evident that under Ransom’s sweaters, Chris still carries the extra muscle and bulk he put on to play Captain America. On a massive theater screen, he looks big and imposing when standing at his full height, but the sweaters go far to soften his superhero frame. The internet took notice of the sweaters, as did Knives Out marketing. For a full day last week, the official Knives Out twitter page did nothing but thirst-tweet about the sweaters. They even edited one of their own ads to poke fun at the sweater obsession.
— Knives Out (@KnivesOut) December 6, 2019
Jamie Lee Curtis even got in on the fun, using a popular hashtag, and Chris responded to her.
Don’t worry, Jamie. That cable-knit is a one-trick pony. Let’s see it try and pull off a beach scene. No range. https://t.co/iuOOcOVqoO
— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) December 7, 2019
All the attention on the sweaters is good, clean, cuddly fun. For a movie with a plot that can’t be openly advertised, anything to drum up interest and drive people to the theaters is a good thing.
UNDER THE SWEATERS
Beneath all the cable-knit goodness, Chris Evans delivers a deliciously devious performance as Ransom Drysdale. Ransom is at turns likable and loathsome. He is sympathetic and sinister. Chris’ nuanced performance relies as much on his physicality as it does on subtle facial expressions. Until we see the true narrative story of what happened, Chris doesn’t allow Ransom to feel physically threatening. His facial expressions alternate between smiles, smirks, and concern. As he breezes into his family home, he starts munching on cookies and asks for milk. He lounges in a chair as all the yelling is directed down at him. As Ransom works with Marta, he is often seated, diminishing their size difference.
It’s not until we see Ransom’s actual flashback that he becomes imposing. During his argument with his grandfather, he is standing, yelling down at a seated Harlan. When he sneaks into the home through an amazingly cool tiny, trick window we’ve already seen Marta sneak into, his frame looks massive in contrast to hers as he unfolds himself from the window into the hall. As he attacks the housekeeper/blackmailer, he stalks towards her at his full height with a furrowed brow and no hesitation.
When he is outright accused of the crime as Blanc lays out what he suspects, Ransom is condescending and arrogant. And finally, when he realizes his entire plan has crashed down around him, the subtle shifts in his expression as he cycles through multiple emotions is a thing of beauty. The shift as he decides to go all in and kill Marta too is menacing and scary. Until it isn’t. His reaction to yet another failure as he bounces a trick knife into her chest is just as funny on repeat viewings as it is the first time around.
GO BACK TO THE THEATER
Rian Johnson deserves all the accolades coming his way as he both wrote the brilliant script and directed the movie. It’s clever, unexpected, and wickedly funny. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, trying to guess what’s going to happen next as you also try to figure out what the hell just happened. I highly recommend multiple viewings. Each time you watch you’ll probably pick up some clever clues you missed the first time.