Review – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery


I say, I say

In the midst of lockdown, legendary private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) receives a mysterious invitation to travel to the island of tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) and take part in a murder mystery game, with Miles as the victim. The other guests include Miles’ “Disrupter” friends – high-aiming politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn), scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr), MRA advocate Duke (Dave Bautista) and oblivious influencer Birdie (Kate Hudson) – and his embittered ex-partner Andi (Janelle Monae). As the trip proceeds, Blanc comes to learn that plenty of people might wish real harm to Miles, and, just like another of his famous cases, everything is not as it seems.

Knives Out is one of the best films of this century, a production that managed to, almost single-handedly, breath new life into the mystery genre, and has already seen more than one attempt at imitation (there’s at least one good one in See How They Run). It was a suitably brilliant riposte to the manner in which director Rian Johnson was effectively side-lined by Disney after The Last Jedi enranged the deplorables, and is the kind of film that I could watch twenty times and still be finding something new to enjoy. A sequel was inevitable, desired and expected. The good news is that Johnson has hit it out of the park again, and long may he and Benoit Blanc keep doing so.

I don’t know how I can really get across just how good the plot of this film is. Johnson somehow manages to introduce a murder mystery that is as deep as they come, deep in characters, plot points, McGuffins, motivations and opportunities, and yet the film never feels overloaded or overstuffed. Everything means something, even Miles’ ridiculous malapropisms when it comes right down it it, every Chekov’s Gun gets to fire. Part of the joy of this film, and Knives Out, is in experiencing how a master storyteller is able to introduce this enormous amount of individual pieces, and then craft a complete jigsaw right before our eyes. I won’t spend too much time on this point other than to say that Glass Onion is a film of complicated story, but also readily accessible.

Only Johnson could plant what seems to be a 45-minute flashback in the middle of his near 2.5 hours mystery film, and have it not only not be a total disaster for the film’s pacing, but a flat-out triumph. Yes, he did similar in Knives Out, but not like this: in the course of this extended flashback he basically runs through the entire plot as it has occurred from a different perspective, and does it in a manner that adds layers upon layers to the mystery, and is effortless entertaining. The pacing generally is just excellent, and the more said in praise of the opening the better, a split-screen lesson in effective “show, don’t tell” characterisation as Miles’ “Disruptors” attempt to solve an intricate puzzle box that Miles has sent them. There’s also inversions aplenty to entertain, not least the manner in which the concocted murder mystery, well, I won’t/can’t say more.

And the details do add up, a cavalcade of brilliant non-verbal characterisation – Miles is so ostentatious he has Boston Dynamics robot dog to carry luggage, and has a Joseph Gordon-Levitt-voiced “dong” marking every hour at his island – and seemingly endless red herrings – like “Derol”, Miles’ strange houseguest – to always keep you on your toes. There’s a literal glass onion, a large store of Jared Leto’s hard kombucha and Jeremy Renner’s hot sauce – both of which become plot pivotal in their own ways – and the literal Mona Lisa on loan from the Louvre to keep you raising your eyebrows in every scene. A steady stream of big name cameos do the same, evidence of just how well-regarded Rian Johnson and this now-franchise have become.

The cast here is simply wonderful. but you didn’t really need me to tell you that of course. Craig so obviously adores playing this man, part genius detective, part social idiot, that remains very far away from what we have become used to with him, seeming so joyous when he uses that Southern drawl to say quaint exclamations like “Fiddlesticks!”. Norton imbues a very sly and repulsive form of evil as Miles. The various guests at this island all bring something to the table, though it is hard not to think that it is Dave Bautista stealing the spotlight a fair bit with his MRA spouting malcontent, a role where he gets to embrace a form of scumbag he is wonderful at playing., But it’s Monae who is the real standout, the Ana de Armas of this production, playing a strange sort of dual role as Miles’ one-time partner, who ends up having a very important role to play in the unfolding mystery. She gives it socks in various different ways, and to say more would be to give away a good portion of what makes Glass Onion as good as it is.

And the film is also just funny. An utterly hilarious moment at the beginning of Miles’ murder mystery is a humorous highpoint, one where Craig delights in marrying together Blanc’s intelligence and timing, but there are many others. Johnson is always happy to lean into a joke, even in a serious moment, but he has an obvious skill in doing this without turning his movie into an MCU-esque comedy skit. Glass Onion is a film that has an innate understanding of the twin axis’s that must be achieved in modern film, which is a mix of entertaining the audience and engaging them mentally: it has no problems with either goal, and part of what makes the film so good is a very real sense that it works both as a deadly serious murder mystery, a treatise on the problems of being mega rich and an almost slapstick farce.

Johnson sticks with same general themes as Knives Out showed, albeit with some elaboration. The general idea remains the same: good and decent people will win out against others, even those in positions of great power, by refusing to play their game and by placing their trust in honesty (for the most part). Johnson’s obvious disdain for the super-rich is obvious again, in every look at Norton’s Miles, a sort of mix of the worst traits of Zuckerberg and Musk (his compound contains an expensive sports car that he brings everywhere, despite the fact that there is nowhere to drive it on the roadless island), and the idea that access to unlimited riches will poison the soul is only underlined after much the same point was made in Knives Out. Glass Onion doesn’t say that we should eat the rich exactly, but they are most definitely an opponent of progress and moral righteousness, and that throughline allows us to fully enjoy the fire-filled finale of Glass Onion, where the concept of “Burn it down” has rarely been so enjoyable to imagine. It doesn’t matter if its the old money of New England or the new money of this European island, the rot is always there, in something as simple as an apparent COVID cure the have-nots don’t have access to (though Birdy doesn’t care either way, wearing a mask that is essentially just mesh). And there’s also that underlying idea that, for the super-rich, throwing money at any problem will solve it, seen in the important plot-point of a hydrogen based clean fuel source that becomes a critical aspect of Miles’ tech bro character and the resolution.

Naturally the film’s production details are top notch. Johnson, with Steve Yedlin back in the cinematographers chair, brings the same eye for detail that he did in Knives Out but where the Thrombey mansion was a rich arena full of individual signs of a long-lasting family dynasty at the peak of its largesse, Miles’ island is a different beast, a tacky and extravagant display of nouveau riche inanity, from the dock that emerges from the water right up to the titular glass monstrosity that towers over everything. The smooth sleekness of everything is very well captured, with Johnson’s lens remaining as wide as possible so we can take in every last bit of Miles’ manufactured sense of being a renaissance man without any of the actual effort. Greece has rarely looked so good. Nathan Johnson’s score is understated, as it was before, but serves as a suitable accompaniment.

Glass Onion is a film I suspect I will watch again and again, and find something new to bowl me over every time. It’s the kind of film where the trust in the audience to grasp the complex mystery plot along with the character driven comedy is really wonderful to experience. The cast is absolutely fantastic, the larger production is seamless. This is a franchise that can keep going from now until the end of time as far as I am concerned, and I doubt I will ever get bored. Netflix has at least one more to go, and I’ll be right there in line, expecting to see this director knocking it out of the ark for the threepeat. Highly recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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2 Responses to Review – Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

  1. Pingback: Film Rankings And Awards 2022 | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: Review: The Pale Blue Eye | Never Felt Better

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