Famed Southern detective Benoit Blanc travels to Greece for his latest case.
What with a tantalizing mystery, an eccentric detective and a collection of self-absorbed suspects brought to life by an exceptional, veteran cast, Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” proved to be the biggest sleeper of 2019, an out-of-left-field delight that somehow managed to breathe new life into the hoary convention, the closed circle mystery. This is a hard act to follow, one that Johnson nearly pulls off with his follow-up “Glass Onion,” a movie that adheres to much the same formula as its predecessor to slightly diminishing returns.
Daniel Craig returns as Benoit Blanc, who when we first see him is suffering from a bout of ennui thanks to the Covid-19 lockdown. However, he’s snapped out of his stupor when a mysterious box is delivered to his door. An elaborate puzzle, it contains an invitation from tech giant Miles Bron (Edward Norton) to come to his island to participate in a murder mystery game he’s concocted. Also on the guest list is fashion icon Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), social media sensation Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), the governor of Connecticut Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), Bron’s right-hand man Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), as well as his former business partner Andi Brand (Janelle Monae).
Johnson deftly reveals how all these characters are related to Bron, giving us broad strokes at first before delving into the specifics of the individual relationships. Needless to say, there’s a great deal of tension and animosity bubbling beneath the polite facades each put forth, all of which comes to the surface when one of the guests is murdered
Johnson pulls a daring about face at the one-hour mark, delivering a narrative switchback that some will see as a piece of storytelling genius, others the act of a desperate man who’s written himself into a corner. The filmmaker pulls the rug out from under us in such an improbable way, the credibility of the entire story is put at risk. Your mileage will vary regarding your willingness to accept this bill of storytelling goods or not.
To be sure, the bar Johnson set in creating “Knives” memorable characters makes it nearly impossible to match. And while this group may not be as charismatic, they carry more weight in terms of metaphoric value. Each represents the kind of vacuous celebrity that has come to dominate our media landscape in various fields. Bron refers to each of his friends as “disruptors,” individuals who have questioned the status quo and made a mark in promoting a sense of individuality that goes against the norm. Debella loudly proclaims her simplistic, self-serving policies, Cody appeals to the lowest common denominator proclaiming he’s an advocate for the rights of white men, while Jay’s ignorant and arrogant comments have been misconstrued as ground-breaking and radical. Bron himself resembles a certain tech giant whose brilliance is undercut by his arrogance and lack of social awareness.
While “Knives” took on classism, here Johnson sets out to deflate those vacuous, self-serving media darlings who willingly insert themselves into the 24-hour news cycle, their boorish behavior mistaken for a candid sense of independence. Blanc is Johnson’s mouthpiece, deflating these characters at every turn, pointing out their hypocrisies as every turn. Solving the murder isn’t nearly as important as his exposing these frauds for who they are. It’s an effective approach yet somehow not nearly as fun as the more subtle lampooning in “Knives.” Still and all, it achieves its purpose and, in the end, proves to be a superior entertainment despite its more obvious intent.
3 1/2 Stars
Johnson (and Netflix) have a hit on their hands and lucky for us, there are two more in the pike. On a cold winter’s night, there’s nothing better to warm your heart than a good old-fashioned murder mystery filled with intrigue and laughter.
To read Pam’s review in its entirety, go to http://reelhonestreviews.com/glass-onion-a-knives-out-mystery-finds-the-key-to-success/