GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY – an Alternative Lens review @ London Film Festival 2022

Starring: Daniel Craig (No Time to Die), Edward Norton (Fight Club), Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures), Kathryn Hahn (WandaVision), Leslie Odom Jr. (One Night in Miami…), Jessica Henwick (The Matrix Resurrections), Madelyn Cline (Outer Banks), Kate Hudson (Deepwater Horizon), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy)

Writer/Director: Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

Runtime: 2 hours 19 minutes

Release Date: 23rd November (US [limited], UK [limited]), 23rd December (Netflix)

Synopsis: Famed detective Benoit Blanc finds himself mysteriously invited to the island getaway of eccentric tech mogul Miles Bron and his inner circle of friends, only for their murder mystery party to evolve into an active crime scene.

Rian Johnson struck gold with Knives Out, a postmodern love letter to the classic whodunnit that twisted the conventions to serve as both a great example of the genre and a witty commentary on upper class culture. It was the kind of movie that stood perfectly on its own, and yet also left audiences begging for more. For Johnson’s first sequel (to one of his own movies, at least), he has taken another page out of Agatha Christie’s book and retained only the Kentuckian sleuth Benoit Blanc, following him on a brand new case with a fresh batch of colourful suspects. The result is a film very close in spirit to its predecessor, retaining its sense of humour and thematic backbone, whilst also being an entirely unique thrill ride that will have you on the edge of your seat until its final reveals…and laughing the entire way too!

ATTENTION: Much like its predecessor, discussing the plot of Glass Onion is incredibly difficult without revealing a lot of information that the trailers have thankfully avoided, but there’s just some things I have to talk about. I won’t be covering any of the major twists or victims or basically anything beyond the first half of the movie, but if you want to go in knowing nothing (and I’d honestly advise you do), just skip to my final verdict and watch for yourself. For those who wish to continue, MILD SPOILER WARNING!

Within its opening few seconds, Glass Onion reaffirms how on the pulse of the modern conversation it is, being the first major film to really address the impact of COVID-19 without making it the primary focus; you could have told this story without addressing it, but it adds so many layers to the plot and characters. Like how Knives Out could have only been made in 2019, this film could have only been made in 2022, and it’s an incredibly cathartic experience to see so many of the developments of the past few years ripped to shreds in such whipsmart fashion. It continues its predecessor’s focus on the wealthy, but broadens its scope from just one rich family to a cavalcade that represents every variant of privileged a-hole: the tech mogul, the politician, the internet celebrity, so on and so forth. It sets the stage for a story about how all these different industry giants are interconnected and reliant on each other, whether the parties involved like it or not, and really focuses in one of the most ignored yet obvious points about billionaire culture: just because someone is rich, it doesn’t mean they’re smart.

Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022, d. Rian Johnson)

As the only returning cast member (well, the only one playing the same role at least…), Daniel Craig slips back into the drawling charm of Benoit Blanc and it’s a pure joy to hear him spout a new string of memeable Blanc-isms. The film spends a lot more time with him than Knives Out did, switching things up and making him our window into this story for the first half. We get to know a little more about the detective’s personal life, and his motives for getting involved in the mystery are a little more personal whilst still maintaining an objective view of the situation. It’s also fascinating to see him struggle with the limits of his jurisdiction; he may be a brilliant detective, but he’s not law enforcement, and even he knows when the system has beaten him.

When it comes to the new cast, Johnson has assembled another great mixture of established and rising stars who all have a unique chemistry that truly makes you believe this odd group have been friends their entire adult lives. Edward Norton takes the central focus as host Miles Bron, a pretentious tech giant who could best be described as “what if Norton’s character from 2003’s The Italian Job did a load of drugs and decided to become Elon Musk”. He’s one of those people who is incredibly hard to read due to the front of insecurity and showmanship he throws up over himself, making you question who he really is underneath the bravado. Kate Hudson gives the best performance of her career since Almost Famous as featherheaded fashionista Birdie Jay, whose vapid observations and tendency to blurt out problematic thoughts really captures a certain selfish and superficial vibe of celebrity culture. Dave Bautista is another standout as gun-toting Twitch streamer Duke Cody, playing the ridiculously macho role like the gay love child of Joe Rogan and Andrew Tate.

(from left to right) Kathryn Hahn as Claire Debella, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey, Edward Norton as Miles Bron, Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel Toussaint, and Kate Hudson as Birdie Jay in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022, d. Rian Johnson)

Kathyrn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr. are left with a little less to do as senate candidate Claire and scientist Lionel, but they have a unique chemistry as the smartest and most self-aware members of Bron’s posse. Jessica Henwick sadly draws the shortest straw as Birdie’s put-upon personal assistant Peg, fading into the background for long stretches, but she has her moments serving as the most “normal” character in a sea of idiosyncratic weirdos; her frustration with Birdie in particular will be relatable to anyone who’s had a difficult boss. Madelyn Cline is something of a secret weapon as Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey, a seemingly perfunctory character whose deeper layers slowly unravel, and Cline does a brilliant job of hiding and revealing that complexity. However, the real show-stopping winner here is Janelle Monáe as Bron’s former business partner Cassandra “Andi” Brand. I can’t really say much more about her without giving the game away, but it’s easily her finest performance to date. You’ll understand what I mean once you’ve seen her.

The most striking difference between Knives Out and Glass Onion are the visuals, swapping out a foreboding mansion in the frigid woodlands of Massachusetts for a futuristic mansion on a sunny Greek island worthy of a Bond villain. It’s a change in environment that matches the higher stakes and more outlandish characters, and that feel of gaudy decadence spreads into every aesthetic choice. The colour pallette is warm and highly saturated, the costumes are stylish and expensive-looking, and the sets have an almost sci-fi feel. Unlike the first film which covered itself in classical mystery trappings, Glass Onion is a film that now feels as visually modern as it does thematically, and that change alone does a lot to reassure you this isn’t a simple rehash. Top it all off with yet another solid score by Nathan Johnson and some solid needle drops, and you have yet another impeccable technical package from Rian Johnson.

Dave Bautista as Duke Cody and Madelyn Cline as Whiskey in GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022, d. Rian Johnson)

A cynical viewer could easily break Glass Onion down to its most basic elements and dismiss it as being fundamentally the same film as Knives Out. On that extremely shallow observation, they are technically correct but they would ultimately be missing the real point of the movie. This is yet another stellar example of the murder mystery genre that expands on the views of its predecessor, whilst also delving deeper into Blanc’s mentality and creating a compelling cast of new characters to boot. It’s easily on par with the first film, and whether you end up liking it slightly more or less will really come down to individual palate. In conclusion, if you liked Knives Out, I’d be highly surprised if you left Glass Onion being anything less than satisfied.


Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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