The Atlantic

Rian Johnson Turned the Whodunit on Its Head

The Knives Out director discusses the history of film noir, why Clue is a boring game, and Baby Yoda.
Source: Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP

Any fears one might have about the impending demise of cinema can be assuaged by a meeting with the director Rian Johnson. For one, there’s his passion and clarity in speaking about his new film, Knives Out. The murder mystery, starring Daniel Craig, debuted in theaters over Thanksgiving weekend, making a healthy $41.7 million in its first five days. And then there was the way Johnson’s eyes lit up when I told him that the newest trailer for Cats, another highly anticipated film, had just been posted online. “Oh, we have to watch it together!” he yelped.

Johnson has a gift for taking well-worn genres and finding something new in them. He broke into Hollywood in 2005 with the hard-boiled high-school noir Brick before moving on to a con-man comedy caper (The Brothers Bloom), a time-traveling sci-fi thriller (Looper), and an inventive Star Wars movie (The Last Jedi). The filmmaker’s enthusiasm for the intricacies of the whodunit story is on display in Knives Out, which sees Craig playing a debonair southern detective named Benoit Blanc trying to unravel the mystery of a millionaire’s grisly death. The movie is as satisfying as any of the classics that inspired it, but it’s unafraid to update those formulas for a modern era.

The director spoke with meabout finding a newlook so cozy. (And, yes, we watched the trailer, during which Johnson cheered and gasped with an occasional interjection like, “It’s the Jellicle Ball, motherfuckers!” and “Get that money, Ian McKellen!”)

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