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

Preamble

Truth be told, I’ve never really been into murder mysteries. Despite feeling that I was raised on a subtle diet of them with David Suchet’s Poirot being on constant loop (via ITV re-runs), they’ve never appealed to me. Whether it’s because of a lack of patience or not really feeling the excitement of the central mystery (or something altogether sillier), I have no idea. However, this seemingly lifelong apathy has been thawed recently with the excellent Agatha Christie-themed film, See How They Run (a review for another time). With that in mind, does Rian Johnson’s follow-up to Knives Out seem like an enticing notion? Does it keep the audience hooked with its mystery? Have you seen Glass Onion? Let me know the comments below.

Review

Despite admiring Rian Johnson’s efforts over the years, I did not entirely appreciate Knives Out. While I found it sharp and stirring in places, I could not quite get a handle on what Johnson was trying to get at in his deconstruction of the genre. It comes as something of a relief that Johnson’s follow-up engaged me a lot more. In fact, at times, Glass Onion plays like a potent social parable that unravels within the confines of the murder mystery genre.

Taking place in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Glass Onion is about billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who invites his closest friends to a murder mystery-themed party at his Greek island retreat. The illustrious group, who are known as “The Disrupters” comprise of aspiring Senate candidate, Claire (Kathryn Hahn), Bron’s chief scientist, Lional (Leslie Odom Jr.), men’s rights activist, Duke (Dave Bautista), fashion designer, Birdy (Kate Hudson), and Bron’s ex-business partner, Cassandra (Janelle Monáe). While the trip seems lighthearted at first, things take a turn when Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) solves Bron’s murder mystery challenge.

Much like the titular object, Johnson’s second Knives Out mystery is made with a Hitchcockian confidence about making the audience believe a certain thing until it’s revealed to be something else entirely. At the same time, the screenplay also takes its object as the north star in its exploration of its central theme.

By itself, a Glass Onion feigns a sort of depth due to its many layers, but at the same time it’s ultimately quite shallow because you can see right through it. This tension between depth and shallowness exists in the narrative in how many of the players are various influencers and the effect they have on the world as disrupters.

The central question of what is a disrupter and the various guises it can take on a personal and global scale was fascinating in its implications and emotive resonance. At the same time, I do think Johnson’s screenplay makes some points about our perception of celebrities in the social media age. In a sense, there can be a collective fawning and adoration for someone who has massive wealth (or followers) that we can get lost in holding them to account. And while the central figure in question is not a one-to-one likeliness of Elon Musk, some moments (particularly a line about wanting to be remembered in the same breath as the Mona Lisa) feel quite current and biting towards media moguls with huge power and sway.

Likewise, a climactic scene involving the breaking of many objects feels like a raw moment of real-life Twitter outrage that spurs on a collective outrage against the establishment that can’t punish real criminals.

While Daniel Craig carries this ethos of righteous indigitation in the latter parts of his performance, my favourite moments of him as Blanc were the ones where he portrays surprise and humbleness as a bystander whose been acknowledged by a huge star. Edward Norton gives his most fascinating performance in years as an affable and visionary tech billionaire. And Janelle Monáe in her poised, controlled and subsequently loose performance struck a chord with me.

In his direction, Johnson uses slow panning and top shots to create a sense of foreboding about Bron’s Glass Onion construction. However, his best moments come near the end, with the use of long shots and close-ups to create scenes that evoke classic Hollywood in their scope, contrasted with the euphoric feeling of breaking contemporary social ills.

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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