This review was originally published jointly with onions in glass room release. It has been updated and reposted for the movie’s streaming release.
A lot of things worked together to make Rian Johnson’s 2019 thriller Knives out a tube. Like Johnson’s loving magpie eye for an abandoned genre, ripe for the picking. Or the spectacle of Daniel Craig going wild as camp detective Benoit Blanc, brazenly jumping the gun at the end of his tenure as James Bond. And then there’s the immaculate cast from top to bottom: Don Johnson is a sleazy, useless, gold-digging husband, because of course he is!
But perhaps the biggest boost to the film’s success is the perfection of its Pinterest-ready mood board, expressed in its brilliant production design, costumes, and cinematography. Chunky autumn knits and sharp tweed overcoats; Jamie Lee Curtis resplendent in fuchsia, topped with a mop of white hair; Chris Evans’ snarling 1970s BMW and his beloved cable sweater; overcast sky and low cool November light; a halo of knives as decoration; a universe of spooky trinkets, all stuffed into a creaky New England mansion, darkly evocative of the Old World. (But as Rian Johnson’s screenplay, bought from a Pakistani real estate magnate in the 1980s, wickedly notes.) It’s a smart, funny film that keeps its self-awareness at the right distance, and its style is on point.
Consider the Netflix-funded sequel’s mood board, Glass onion: a mystery at loggerheads, which once again explores the ugliest mind games and murders among the most privileged. This time around, it’s a Porsche hypercar spinning on a roof-mounted turntable; azure seas and skies under a blazing Greek sun; personalized cocktail glasses and chiming smart phones; glass sculptures and gadgets adorning a fantastical technological palace with a huge onion-shaped dome; loud prints, loose linens, scarves, sun hats and a cod-mounted handgun.
All this to say that Glass Onion is a brighter, stronger and more outgoing film than the first Knives out. His themes and his fashion flirt with brazen and caricatural stupidity. This time around, Johnson is aiming for big ideas and big laughs – it’s a funnier film, almost an outright comedy at the same time, and broad at that. Where Knives out aims at the defensive claim of inherited wealth, Glass Onion pokes fun at the desperate peacock for new money, in a world of tech billionaires, influencers and flash-in-the-pan politicians. As before, however, the gentleman Benoit Blanc is there to strip the illusions of these people with comedic courtesy.
Also as before, Glass Onion begins as a murder mystery that seems to lack an actual murder. The death of detective writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) in Knives out is investigated at various times as a suicide or an accident, and Johnson is happy to salvage the nature of the crime and the identity of the criminal until the very end.
This time there is only comedy. Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who has made an unimaginable fortune from a vague technological platform called Alpha, has invited a motley group of friends to his private Greek island for their annual reunion. He calls them his “disturbers”: a stressed-out liberal politician (Kathryn Hahn), a scientific genius who works for Bron (Leslie Odom Jr.), a rude meninist Twitch streamer (Dave Bautista) and a former aerial model (Kate Hudson) with a line of fancy sweatpants, which is booming because it’s 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing everyone to work from home.
Everyone is surprised by the arrival of Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), who built Alpha with Miles, but whom he ruthlessly kicked out of the company. Everyone also seems surprised when Benoit Blanc is invited, including Blanc. But Bron has planned a murder mystery party where he’ll be the “victim,” so at least the World’s Greatest Detective fits the theme. Revealing more would interfere with the complex clockwork mechanism of Johnson’s scheme – but of course someone ends up dying for real, and someone better make sure there’s a celebrity sleuth on the line. stage.
While Johnson is a deep admirer of classic Agatha Christie mysteries, the sense of playfulness in constructing them isn’t enough for him. He feels the need to play games with the thriller game itself. What if the killer hadn’t committed the murder? What if the victim wasn’t the target? Rather than raising the curtain on his artifice at the conclusion, as he did in Knives outin Glass Onion, he takes a big bet and raises it halfway through. At this point, it flips the script and rewinds the plot to replay from the beginning, with each event and many characters presented in a new light.
Structurally, it’s quite a magic trick. Some of the devices he uses to make it are quite old, but this choice seems appropriate for such a theatrical enterprise, and the workmanship is solid: all the pieces fit together. The bet has other consequences, however. Some characters are deepened and enriched by the shift in perspective, but others are flattened. Basically, genre conventions dictate that Johnson does a reveal at the end to match the twist surprise he engineered halfway through, but when he gets there, it turns out he’s run out of things. ‘options, and the gain does not land as it should.
At this point, however, Johnson is less interested in hitting the murderer and more in bringing down the entire world of characters in a burst of glory. In Knives out, directed during the Trump era, obsessed with immigration, he asked who America belonged to, anyway, and chose a side with his stunning closing shot. In Glass Onion, made in the midst of the dissociation of COVID, it is content to attack left and right a series of soft targets: the utopian fantasies of Big Tech, the hypocrisy of liberal politics, the stupidity of the online image creation. It’s a confused thing, embodied in a series of vulgar caricatures with which he tries to establish a natural relationship between them.
However, they still pop out of the screen, aided by Jenny Eagan’s outlandish costumes. Bautista manages to be both boor and puppy as Duke, the insecure man-child trapped in the body of a rocky outcrop. Hudson is hilarious as Birdie, a glamorous queen of idiocy who’s been canceled for her tweets so many times that her assistant won’t let her touch her phone. Norton, as the absurd Elon Musk, taps into a deep layer of douchiness without dampening his immense charisma – it’s a joy to see him back at the center of a flashy big Hollywood production, and to be reminded what a star he is. . Monáe, in the most sophisticated and multifaceted role, shines with a sincerity, a simmering anger and a reality that others cannot touch.
It is also a film in which we see Daniel Craig playing Among us in the bath with the late Angela Lansbury and Stephen Sondheim on Zoom. The film riffs on Craig’s macho Bond image in delightful and surprising ways, but both Craig and Johnson nudge the dapper sleuth, with his pronounced Southern drawl, in a more cartoonish direction – away from the famed sleuth Hercule Poirot of Agatha Christie, and towards her descending parody, The pink PantherInspector Clouseau. Unlike Peter Sellers’ silly investigator, Benoit Blanc isn’t fooled, but as he descends into a pool wearing a striped two-piece bathing suit and tie, he looks a bit like a figure fun.
Does it matter? Not really. A great sleuth, like Peter Falk’s Columbo – to whom Rian Johnson and Natasha Lyonne will soon pay homage in their detective series Poker face — need not have hidden depths. They are the keys that turn the lock, open the door and shed light on our shortcomings. We don’t need to know why they’re doing it, but we’re asking them to do it in style. As flashy, fun and starry entertainment, Glass Onion definitely does that.
Glass onion: a mystery at loggerheads is now streaming on Netflix.