Knives Out not only pays homage to the traditional Agatha Christie-esque murder-mystery, but brings it into the contemporary landscape, through well-written comedy and a critique of class structure in America. The film follows the eclectic and wealthy Thrombey family following the suspected murder of their patriarch, Harlan Thrombey. As the renowned, oddball detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) unravels the crime, the film looks towards issues of class and immigration. What I originally thought to be a light-hearted detective film revealed itself to be a study of hypocrisy and dysfunction surrounding a wealthy family.
The film being a traditional whodunit is abundantly clear in the setting of the family home: an old mansion with antique and unsettling furniture. It’s filled with hidden doors and windows and feels like it’s set within a game of Cluedo. It is easy to find yourself looking for some clue or murder weapon within the house, but what the unsettling layout of the house actually represents is the family within it. Like the house, the family is overtly thriving but is also hiding something.
A noticeable prop for me was the chair surrounded by hundreds of knives pointing towards whoever is sat in the chair. The chair is prominently placed in the background of many scenes and although at first it appears to be just another eccentric aspect of the house, it is another cleaver reflection of the family. The Thrombeys will do anything to protect their position and wealth and to maintain it they are always ready to attack whoever threatens it: they have their knives out.
The film’s protagonist, Marta (Ana de Armas), is the victim of the Thrombey family. She is a carer for Harlan and although the family assure her that following his death they will look after her and that she is part of the family, they are not quite as kind-hearted as they originally portray themselves to be. For me, a standout scene occurs when the family is discussing what the viewer can assume is the election of Trump. While the family debates his presidency, some agreeing with him, other disagreeing and others staying indifferent, Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson)- who is advocating for Trump- invites Marta into the room. He then questions her in front of her employer’s family over her mother’s entrance into the country which he presumes was legally done. The scene is powerful as the viewer is aware that Marta’s mother did not enter the country legally and her character’s main concern throughout the film is her mother’s unstable citizenship.
The hypocrisy of the family is clear through the granddaughter Meg Thrombey (Katherine Langford) who is presented primarily as a liberal, open character and through her friendship with Marta. When it appears that she will be disinherited and won’t be able to afford her expensive education, she is also happy to betray Marta. She tells her family about Marta’s mothers illegal entry into the country and despite her supposed liberal values she is no better than her uncle who criticised illegal immigrants in America earlier.
By the end of the film the family, who saw Marta as one of their own and were happy to provide for her, have all turned on her. They will betray anyone to maintain their wealth as they all selfishly expect to inherit Harlan’s fortune. When Marta is in a more favourable position than them, they make every attempt to ensure she maintains her working-class status while they continue living their life of luxury. Luckily the film ends with Marta looking down on the Thrombeys from their family home as she maintains her kindness. She looks down on the whole family while holding a mug that reads: ‘My house. My rules. My coffee’. The Thrombey’s who have treated Marta as beneath them throughout the movie now get to experience the feeling themselves. I highly recommend the film as it is equally comedic and light-hearted but also places subtle themes of class hypocrisy at the centre of the viewer’s awareness.