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Tag: Rian Johnson

QuickView: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

“It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.”

Benoit Blanc

Knives Out was a delightful surprise that absolutely did not require a sequel, so I approached Netflix’s acquistion of the rights to multiple further movies with some trepidation. The prepostrously accented detective Benoit Blanc is the only returning character, Daniel Craig clearly continuing to enjoy himself in a less physically demanding role. No time is wasted in establishing the conceit, a group of influencers and disruptors receiving elaborate invitations from a tech billionaire to an island party, providing ample fodder for further satire of the wealthy and feckless. If Knives Out was Rian Johnson remixing the traditional elements of a whodunit, with Glass Onion he instead subverts the structure entirely, resolving one mystery midway through the proceedings and then rewinding so that we see events unfold with more information and an entirely new perspective. Johnson once again assembles an excellent ensemble cast, though Janelle Monáe is the standout. Events may unfold on a sun-drenched island rather than in an ominous mansion, but returning cinematographer Steve Yedlin provides visual continuity along with the similarly meticulous mise-en-scène, some of which is sadly lost on the small screen (Glass Onion recieved only a one week limited theatrical release in order to qualify for awards). Establishing the form’s return, this is the third high profile whodunit of 2022, following Death on the Nile and See How They Run — of the three Glass Onion is by far the most ambitious and the most successful.


QuickView: Knives Out (2019)

Knives Out quad poster

“That’s some heavy-duty conjecture.”

Ransom Drysdale

Knives Out is Rian Johnson’s modern remix of the classic whodunnit. The traditional elements are present: a deceased patriarch, a squabbling family with secrets and a large mansion with plenty of space for intrigue. Whilst Johnson’s love for the genre is evident, he highlights some of its contrivances like the idiosyncratic civilian detective inexplicably given free rein to investigate. As in his debut, Brick, the language often jars with the modern setting, but his flair for dialogue makes it fit this specific world. Unusually our viewpoint is not that of the sleuth (Daniel Craig with a distracting Southern drawl) but rather the deceased’s nurse, Ana de Armas wonderfully portraying both vulnerability and determination. The ensemble cast is delightful, deriving humour largely from the absurd, although its sporadic placement results in a slightly uneven tone. The mystery itself is expertly plotted over the course of two hours which rapidly fly by, and some secrets remain until late in the proceedings without a sense of cheating. The result is far superior to the recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. The height of praise for this sort of film is that — even where I could anticipate certain elements — watching them unfold remained entertaining. With its eccentric characters, stylised dialogue and constrained setting, Knives Out feels theatrical rather than cinematic, but that should not diminish one’s enjoyment whatsoever.


Brick (2006)

director: Rian Johnson
starring: Jospeph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Lukas Haas, Noah Fleiss, Matt O’Leary
running time: 110 mins
rating: 15

BrickThis year’s first truly inventive film arrives with little flourish but plenty of style. Rian Johnson’s directorial début moves classic noir into a high school environment in what would be a gimmick if it were about visual appearances, but is instead about heart.

After receiving a frightened phone call from an ex-girlfriend, Brendan [Joseph Gordon-Levitt] enters the local underworld to shake things up and search for answers. With everything unfamiliar, his only friend is The Brain [Matt O’Leary] who feeds him information while he tries to track her down along a path that introduces him to a shady drug-dealing kingpin [Lukas Haas], hot-headed thugs, and femme fatales. Once murder enters the equation, he knows he is in too deep, but is determined not to stop until he discovers the truth.

Brendan and The BrainThe noir translates jarringly at first to its new setting. Unconvincing teenage characters shoot the sharp dialogue of the 1940’s, but the strength of the delivery of this world will soon draw you in. Visually Johnson doesn’t go the way of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang but instead uses a subtler technique, draining colours in some areas and adding vibrancy in others. Our hero Brendan wears an old grey jacket with glasses and an unruly mop of curly hair rather than the traditional hero’s sharp get-up, but this serves to make him more accessible to us.

The plot is suitably convoluted and certainly unpredictable, yet not the film’s memorable aspect. Rather it is the feeling that permeates the entire experience, strangely aided by how out of place these teenage criminals seem. Gordon-Levitt offers another strong turn as an outsider, but unlike Mysterious Skin his attraction here is from his passionate, single-minded focus rather than sexual presence. His intensity allows much of the dialogue to work, warning back stoned thugs with an improbable, “I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.” Unfortunately the rapid delivery of the dialogue is occasionally swallowed by poor sound recording, a shame since the script has been crafted with such care. Haas conversely lacks the screen presence to make The Pin as powerful a character as it ought to be. Even in a teenage world he lacks the requisite presence despite his brooding cloak-and-cane image.

The KingpinThe fusion allows the school administration to become another presence of authority, usually provided by the police, as Brendan’s vice-principal reminds him, “You’ve helped this office out before.” The school itself has no character and is greyed out, perhaps intentionally to avoid it becoming a focal point. However when the students’ underworld are delicately balanced with their normal lives, it seems odd that the school plays so small a role. Perhaps it serves to highlight that it is in the gritty outside world that these youths truly live.

Ultimately what appears to be a gimmick and never quite rings true is in some ways the whole point of the film. These are teenagers, in way over their heads and utterly unreal, and yet they represent exactly what being a teenager feels like, the constant fear that everything is a matter of life and death. In the world of Brick, how it feels is what makes it breathe.

buy from 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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