The king is dead, long live his money. Novelist Harlan Thrombey makes his grand entrance via his portrait that hangs over the fireplace in an adjacent room. In one hand is a leatherbound book and in the other an ornamental knife. The smile that hangs here nearly matches the one in the next shot.
Detective Archer finishes his thought across from Linda while we flashback to happier (?) times, “…the family gathered to celebrate his 85th birthday.” The smiles that surround him are as genuine a sign of their affection as the ridiculous amount of candles they’ve slathered atop his cake. Thrombey knows what vultures he’s bred.
In Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, Detective Archer is the slain partner of hero Sam Spade. Just one sucker used to lure another sucker onto the stuff dreams are made of. Hopefully, Stanfield will fair better in Knives Out, but based on this brief exchange, the outcome looks bleak. Archer reaches for a pen or a pad of paper, inquiring about the B-day bash, “How was it?” Linda meets his absurd question with an equally absurd answer, “Pre my dad’s death? Oh, it was great.”
Enter Detective Blanc with one pound of a piano key and a fidgeting of a lucky coin. Here, ladies and gentlemen is the southern-fried brain the villain(s) of the story should fear. Blanc is Rian Johnson’s Hercule Poirot, his Jessica Fletcher, and his Columbo.
The police tape goes up, and the first beats of Frank Sinatra’s “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die” rumble.
The gentleman detective requests to all party guests that they stay until his investigation is completed. Blanc is the seemingly buffoonish interloper who couldn’t possibly comprehend the mechanics of murder, but by credits end, will have captured the culprit through sheer persistence and ingenuity. He’s a smug character, but one who earns it. He requests/demands that no one leave the premises.
Joni is more than a little disgruntled by this turn of events, “May we ask why? Has something changed?” Blanc states simply, “No.” That’s not good enough for Joni. She prepares that shade, “No it hasn’t changed, or no we can’t ask?” She’s all contempt, and it is wonderful.
The final game Harlan Thrombey ever plays also happens to be the world’s oldest, and the one John Locke used to teach young Walt the perils of good vs. evil in ABC’s Lost. Backgammon has been around for nearly 5,000 years. Think of it as a more Poker version of Checkers where luck and skill determine the outcome. A player is chained to the roll of the dice, but strategy and adaptation are powerful allies as well.