Created by: Rian Johnson
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Produced by: Ram Bergman, Rian Johnson
Other cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Christopher Plummer
Release date: November 27, 2019
Premiere date: September 7, 2019 (TIFF)
Genre: Crime, whodunit
Running time: 130 minutes
When renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead at his estate just after his 85th birthday, the inquisitive and debonair Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously enlisted to investigate. From Harlan’s disfunctional family to his devoted staff, Blanc sifts through a web of red herrings and self-serving lies to uncover the truth behind Harlan’s untimely death.
Full Plot Summary
Wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey invites his extended family to his remote mansion on his 85th birthday in order to deliver important, though disappointing, news to a number of family members. The next morning, however, Harlan’s housekeeper Fran finds him dead in his study.
The police, along with experienced private eye Benoit Blanc, are called in to investigate. Throughout a series of interviews with members of the family, secrets are revealed as well as possible motives for murder. Richard, Harlan’s son-in-law, was discovered to have cheated on his wife Linda, Harlan’s daughter, with Harlan threatening to expose him. Joni, Harlan’s daughter-in-law and wife of his deceased son Neil, was exposed by Harlan after she stole $400,000 from him by sourcing duplicate checks meant for her daughter, Megan, to a private bank account. Walter, Harlan’s youngest son, was fired from his father’s publishing company during the birthday party. Ransom, Linda and Richard’s son, had discovered he’d been cut out of the will entirely.
It is then revealed that after the party, Harlan’s caretaker, Marta Cabrera, took Harlan upstairs to give him his nightly medication. After beginning to play a game of Go, Harlan jokingly knocked the board off of the table before Marta could give him his medication. Marta picked up the bottles and injected him, but realized that she accidentally gave him 100 milligrams of morphine. To protect his friend, Harlan gave her strict instructions on how to escape and avoid suspicion before slitting his own throat, leaving Marta shocked. Marta then drove away, parked her car, and returned to the house through the gate entrance, before climbing up the trellis on the side of the house and wearing Harlan’s coat and hat to confuse Walter in his peripheral vision, who had seen Marta leave, ruling her out as a suspect. The police question Marta, as she is a trustworthy source due to her inability to lie without vomiting, but she makes it through her interrogation without fail. Suspecting foul play, Blanc is determined to find the true cause of death.
The next day, Blanc, along with Marta and the police, search the house and its surroundings for clues, many of which Marta is able to cover up before the detectives can find them. Since it is the day of Harlan’s will reading, the family anxiously awaits the reveal, and are shocked to hear that Harlan left everything to Marta, including his inheritance, the house, and his company. Despite the family’s kindness to Marta the night prior, they quickly turn on her but Ransom helps her escape. Ransom and Marta then go to a local restaurant where Ransom coaxes Marta into telling him everything.
Meanwhile, the family members realize that if Marta can be proven as the murderer, they will regain their inheritance. They insist that the murder investigation continue, and Blanc confirms his suspicion of foul play, adding that everyone is still a potential suspect. This leads to Marta receiving a ransom note reading “I know what you did” along with a partial photocopy of Harlan’s toxicology report.
Marta drives with Ransom to the medical examiner’s office, only to find it up in flames and swarming with police. At Ransom’s insistence, Marta checks her email, and finds an address and time. Blanc spots the pair before they engage in a car chase, but Marta and Ransom are ultimately unable to evade their pursuers before Ransom is arrested after Wanetta, Harlan’s mother and elderly matriarch of the family, falsely identified Marta as him at the house. Marta drives to the address only to find Fran there, drugged. Marta performs CPR on her, and calls the police phone line, ensuring that Fran gets to the hospital safely. On the drive back to the mansion, Marta reveals everything to Blanc, who discourages her from confessing to the family. However, Blanc tells her to stop at the last minute when he spots something in a copy of the full toxicology report that Fran had hidden away.
The police bring Ransom to the house and place him in a private room where Blanc and Marta are waiting. Blanc reveals that he deduced the murder and goes on to reveal what he knows. The night of the party, Ransom stormed out after discovering Marta’s inheritance from Harlan and decided to frame her for his murder. Ransom swapped the contents of the medication vials and removed the emergency morphine counter agent, ensuring the morphine overdose. Ransom then swapped the vials back while the rest of the family was at Harlan’s funeral. Fran saw Ransom in Harlan’s study that day and deduced his involvement in Harlan’s death, prompting her to send him the ransom letter, which Ransom then sent to Marta after cutting out the address. Ransom then burnt down the medical examiner’s office to ensure that Harlan’s blood work was destroyed. Ransom confronted Fran and drugged her with morphine, nearly killing her before destroying the original copy of the toxicology report and emailing Marta Fran’s location in the hopes of fooling the police into believing Marta had murdered Fran. Blanc then reveals that the toxicology report shows that Harlan wasn’t poisoned at all, and that Marta had instinctively given Harlan the correct medication, but, noticing the mislabeling, didn’t know.
Marta receives a call from the hospital and says that Fran is alive, forcing Ransom to admit his crimes before angrily vowing revenge and legal recourse on Marta. At the last moment, Marta vomits on Ransom, revealing that she had lied and that Fran actually died at the hospital. Enraged that he had been tricked into admitting murder and arson, Ransom attempts to stab Marta but the knife turns out to be one of Harlan’s many props. He is then taken into police custody while the rest of the family watches in disgust. As Ransom is taken away, the remaining Thrombey family look up to the mansion’s balcony to see Marta sipping from Harlan’s signature coffee cup with the label “My House, My Rules, My Coffee” written on it.
Writer-director Rian Johnson first came up with the basic concept for Knives Out after making the 2005 film Brick. He first made his intentions known publicly in June 10, when he expressed in making an Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery film. Though he originally intended to make the film after Looper, he didn’t begin work on the film until after completing his press tour for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Knives Out was officially announced in September 2018, with Daniel Craig starring. It was sold to distributors during the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. In October 2018, Chris Evans, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Ana de Armas, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette officially joined the cast. In November 2018, Christopher Plummer, Jaeden Martell, Katherine Langford, Riki Lindhome and Edi Patterson joined the cast in supporting roles. Noah Segan, who frequently collaborates with Rain Johnson, was announced as being in the film in December, with Frank Oz (who had worked with Rian Johnson in The Last Jedi) announced in March 2019.
Principal photography began on October 30, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts, and wrapped on December 20, 2018. Other filming locations in Massachusetts included Berlin, Easton, Marlborough, Natick, Wellesley, Maynard, Waltham, and Medfield. The exteriors of the house were filmed at a mansion located in Natick, about 17 miles (27 km) west of Boston. The Ames Mansion in Borderland State Park, Massachusetts, was used for many interior shots of the Thrombey mansion.
Knives Out had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7, 2019, and was theatrically released on November 27, 2019 by Lionsgate.
The film grossed $165.3 million domestically and $143.9 million internationally, for a worldwide total of $309.2 million. Deadline Hollywood would calculate the net profit of the film to be $82 million. Though was initially projected to gross $22–25 million from 3,391 theaters over its five-day opening weekend, the film exceeded expectations and made $41.7 million in its five-day opening wedding and finished at second behind Frozen II.
In its second and third weekends the film made $14.2 million and $9.3 million, remaining in second then finishing third. The film made $6.5 million in its fourth weekend and then $9.7 million in its fifth (and a total of $16.6 million over the five-day Christmas period).
The film scored a 97% at Rotten Tomatoes, and received a MetaCritic score of 82/100. Audiences at CinemaScore graded it A- on their scale, with PostTrak’s audiences giving it an average of 4.5 out of 5. Praise from the film was centred on its strong performances from the entire cast, its political subtext and twist on the classic whodunit trope.
A sequel to the film was officially greenlit by Lionsgate on February 6, 2020.
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