Rian Johnson’s Knives Out continues to move through development at a breakneck speed as more of its cast fills out. And as previously predicted, the director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi is definitely not holding back on hiring some exceptional names for his mysterious new project.
Variety reports that the ever-magnetic Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water) is negotiating to star in Knives Out in an undisclosed role, much like Chris Evans before him. Meanwhile, Deadline dropped the news that rising star Lakeith Stanfield (Sorry to Bother You) will be playing a detective, putting him alongside Daniel Craig as yet another crime buster in the film.
Knives Out, which will be written and directed by Johnson, remains as vague as ever with regard to plot. Still, given that it is billed as an Agatha Christie-esque whodunnit set in the modern-day era, I am intrigued nonetheless. Christie’s mysteries are fanciful and oftentimes implausible, but they are impactful and satisfying stories at their core. The whimsy of Christie’s work is strongly contrasted by the softly intricate truths about human nature that she reveals in her novels.
Such stories definitely need some larger-than-life personalities to balance out their possibly convoluted nature. Craig and Evans certainly fit the bill in that they bring a bombastic quality to the film, intentionally or not. Of course, we’re well-aware that Craig and Evans are engrossing actors in their own right. However, their roles in big-budget tentpole affairs have resulted in cultural salience that we can’t ignore either.
In contrast, actors like Shannon and Stanfield provide a fascinating notion of quirkiness to Knives Out. Their presence practically already serves as an excellent counterpoint to any potentially superhuman expectations one might have of both James Bond and Captain America appearing in a movie together. Shannon and Stanfield tend to disappear into a plethora of roles in the most unassuming way, but always manage to steal the show nonetheless.
To be frank, it seems like Shannon is in every movie imaginable. He doesn’t really discriminate when it comes to his choice of filmmakers, having worked with the likes of Jeff Nichols, Cameron Crowe, Guillermo del Toro, Zack Snyder, and Michael Bay (twice!) — just to name a few. To see Shannon in only one film throughout any given year is also such a rarity that the last time this actually happened was back in 2008. The movie was Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road, for which Shannon was nominated for an Academy Award as well. He later made nine onscreen appearances in features in 2016, the most he has ever done in any year so far.
The 2010s have been particularly fortuitous for Shannon in general, mostly because his Nichols partnerships are all extremely fruitful post-Shotgun Stories. The inexplicably moving psychological drama Take Shelter, deliberately unsentimental coming-of-age tale Mud, unshakeable slow-burning sci-fi enigma Midnight Special, and intensely understated biographical romance Loving showcase Nichols’ compassionate idiosyncrasies brilliantly. Shannon is at his subtlest and most compelling with Nichols around. Their team-ups always result in the most lived-in and authentic-feeling cinema, no matter what kind of stories they tell.
Other notable Shannon roles in recent years include an unethical real estate operator in 99 Homes, a particularly funny and unusual rendition of Elvis Presley in Elvis & Nixon, a grizzled detective in Nocturnal Animals (which netted him his second Academy Award nomination), and an unrelenting embodiment of destructive, hellish patriotism in The Shape of Water. Each role makes use of a different skillset in his versatile wheelhouse. Even though Shannon has been documented to detest being singled out, he really deserves that commendation.
Stanfield has a much shorter filmography compared to Shannon by far. Nevertheless, he increasingly gets more and more chances to diversify his portfolio. Stanfield has star power surging through his most vulnerable performances from Short Term 12 to Atlanta and Get Out. Once again, these movies and series are so dissimilar to one another, yet each stands out for being legitimately iconic.
How many times has Stanfield’s Get Out character been memed across social media? He spouts endlessly quotable and genuinely profound witticisms in Atlanta, making him a distinct fan favorite. Short Term 12 was the first movie of Stanfield’s career and it shot him to stardom, and it honestly would have been so much less heartrendingly cohesive without his intensely frazzled performance.
And now, Stanfield is well and truly on his way to becoming a bona fide leading man. We get to see concrete evidence of this as he admirably holds his own within the extreme and challenging premise of Sorry to Bother You. Stanfield basically has to go with the flow in Boots Riley’s zany debut film. Stanfield’s protagonist’s many reactions to the quandaries and situations around him — as he tries to figure out where his allegiances lie in the world of corporations and personal ethics — are powerful and thought-provoking. We as the audience are with him every step of the way.
Stanfield’s talents have never been a mystery, but I can hardly wait to see what he brings to the table in Legendary’s Prince of Cats alongside his role in the new Adam Sandler and Safdie brothers collaboration, Uncut Gems. That’s not even counting the projects that are going through post-production and awaiting release right now, namely Sony’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web and the Netflix comedy Something Great.
Just when I thought I couldn’t be more invested in Knives Out, this cast just keeps getting better. As an aside, it might be a good time to start hiring some women, of course, but the existing slate is undeniably worth our attention.