Every time I hear some half-baked, anti-intellectual political take escape the mouth of anyone in mainstream filmmaking, I can’t help but think that they just don’t understand their main goal as artists: Maintain the illusion … at all costs. It means everything.
Whether they know it or not, every time they utter some useless invective, it takes away from their ability to uphold the illusion. When I see Daniel Craig, I don’t see James Bond … I see the dude who mumbled a bunch of anti-gun vomit.
That behavior makes it difficult for them to tell a story, so when a bunch of them get together in large ensemble casts, I find it impossible to suspend my disbelief and enjoy a motion picture. If they don’t care about the craft, then why should I?
Right up there with my disliking of ensemble casts is murder mysteries … I can’t stand them. It just seems that theme takes a backseat to the misdirection required for the genre, and that’s just not the way I digest the art form — to each their own.
So, when Knives Out premiered, I was torn: I can’t stand the cast or the genre, but I find Rian Johnson, the film’s director, a unique and visionary artist.
As it turns out, my trust in him was rewarded.
This is now a landmark film for me: I loved a film I really shouldn’t have, and that’s a testament to Johnson’s ability as a director.
When the credits rolled, I thought — especially reflecting on Craig’s performance — that I don’t recall letting any of the cast’s off-screen verbal poison infect my experience. Johnson’s screenplay and directing was so detailed and perfect, that the craft overcame the preconceptions thrust onto me after years of hearing these people spew their nonsensical politics wherever they could.
On top of all that, Johnson managed to do something extremely extraordinary: He presented a liberal opinion on a truthful landscape — it’s what the great liberal films of the ‘60s and ‘70s did. They never felt the need to make propaganda films like they do today. Films by people like Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma, Oliver Stone, and Sidney Lumet had something to say without having to lie about the broader landscape. They presented a truthful scenario, then added what they wanted their work to say.
In Knives Out, Johnson displayed his left-leaning immigration ideas, but he didn’t feel the need to demonize the other side.
It’s a great intellectual approach that most filmmakers lack the ability execute.
With all of that in place, Johnson made an absolutely delightful mystery that didn’t depend on unnecessary twists and red herrings.
This film is also landmark production culturally as well. In a decade-plus timespan dominated by cartoon-like superhero films, Knives Out — along with Ford V. Ferarri, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, and Joker — found box office success telling largely human stories.
Keep them coming, Mr. Johnson.