International Geekdom very much knows Rian Johnson as the writer/director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. But for those of us who couldn’t give a toss about X-Wing pilots and Leia Organa, it’s all about his scandalously overlooked 2008 masterpiece The Brothers Bloom – in which Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody played the hippest con men literally in the history of cinema.
And with the new film Knives Out (in theaters November 27), the iconoclastic filmmaker again gets a shot at doing what he does best: getting unforgettable performances out of a brilliant ensemble cast, reading a script that tilts the English language just sideways enough to come off as artfully oddball. To be sure, like Hal Hartley and Wes Anderson before him, Johnson’s characters speak in a calculatedly stylized dialect, with a slightly off-kilter cadence and rhythm that wouldn’t be in the least recognizable to your average (is there any other kind?) linguistic literalist.
It’s also wickedly smart, with just the right amount of winking self-awareness.
For it, Johnson manages to gather Chris Evans, Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield (Atlanta), Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), even Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Plummer on the same screen for a genuinely peculiar crime drama that makes Clue look like Law & Order. Curiously, the victim, Harlan Thrombey (Plummer), is a very successful writer of mysteries (how meta) – until he becomes one on his 85th birthday.
Stanfield and Noah Segan play cops who come to the creepy old mansion – Thrombey’s home – where the birthday celebration was taking place, and encounter a familiar cast of damaged and narcissistic characters, including the victim’s son and daughter (Shannon and Curtis), and the latter’s self-absorbed son (a deliciously snide Evans). Eventually, Craig arrives to steal the show as detective Benoit Blanc, who is somewhere between Twin Peaks and Agatha Christie, but with a very pronounced southern accent – making him a truly original creation – it would be a shame, in fact, if this were his only film appearance.
It’s laced with social commentary and insightful meditations on class, almost all delivered with a kind of wry, kooky wit (shades of the Coen brothers). The house itself is just as much a character, an ominous country pile that’s weirdly decorated and eerily lit. But in the end, Knives Out is very much Rian Johnson’s film, with a style, dialogue and acting performances that could have surely only been conjured by him.