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USA 2022
Directed by
Rian Johnson
139 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is being touted as a sequel to his 2019 murder mystery hit Knives Out but other than the reappearance of Daniel Craig as super-sleuth Benoit Blanc and the co-opting of its title (a strategy required by Netflix who bought the rights to make this and a third film that is on its way) the two films have nothing in common bar the underlying Agatha Christie style who-dunnit template.

Johnson has jettisoned the “old world” charm and style of Christie’s classic entertainments and reconfigured them for the flashier, hyper-connected, social media saturated, celebrity-obsessed world of today. Gone is the comfortable stately home with its manicured gardens and low-lit, wood-panelled living rooms, comfortably tweedy threads and autumnal  tones. Instead we get the sun-drenched Greek islands and nouveau riche philistinism, a vibrantly-coloured palette, and a swag of wink,wink pop-cultural references and in-jokes.

Edward Norton plays Miles Bron, an Elon Musk/Steve Jobs type tech billionaire, who invites a group of old friends (played by Janelle Monáe, Kate Hudson, Katherine  Hahn, Dave Bautista and Leslie Odom Jr) to his Greek home/headquarters which he calls the Glass Onion in memory of a bar they once frequented a decade or so earlier. The highlight of the sojourn is to be a murder mystery game with Bron as the victim. Also in the party is Craig’s Blanc, more relaxed than he was in the first film and looking like a kind of scaled-down Jacques Tati as well as Monáe’s Cassandra (Andi) Brand who was Miles’s business partner until with the help of the rest of the group he cut her out when she refused to go along with his dangerous “next level” schemes. Why she has come along for the get-together with a bunch of people she doesn’t like is the question on everyone’s lips.

In contrast to the first film Glass Onions draws together a heteroclite group of people and one of the problems of Johnson’s script is that it never makes what Miles calls “our gang”, a particularly plausible set of old friends. What, for instance, would Kathryn Hahn’s Senate candidate be doing hanging out with Bautista’s Joe Rogan-like men’s rights spokesman? Indeed there is little to no interaction between some of the characters, the film revolving around Bron, Blanc and Brand with Hudson’s Birdie Jay providing a loosely attached fourth wheel. As the template dictates, the first half of the film is given over to a sequence of events leading up to a (real-life) murder then the narrative makes a180 degree turn and we re-visit the same events but now guided by Blanc’s analysis as he imperturbably uncovers the identity of the murderer.

It is from this point on that the script hits further troubles. Thrillers often have to bend the laws of probability to reach their resolution but by the film’s end we realize that Johnson has resorted to a considerable amount of misdirection if not downright subterfuge to bring off his story. I'm not sure if having cellist Yo-Yo Ma explain to the the audience what a fugue is self-deprecation or hubris. Either way it's not as clever as you'd want it to be. To use another metaphor in the annals of illusionism Glass Onion is more smoke and mirrors than sleight-of-hand

Although in hindsight this is a tad annoying (who likes being duped?) strangely enough it doesn’t really matter that much. The combination of Johnson’s careful mise-en-scène, Rick Heinrichs' production design, cinematography by Steve Yedlin, editing by Bob Ducsay and a spot-on genre score by the director’s cousin, composer Nathan Johnson along with the fine contributions from all the cast, particularly Craig, Norton and Monáe  the deception can be forgiven. You’re still going to have a fun time. The question now is: will Johnson be able to keep it together for a third go-round?




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