Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
2019’s Knives Out saw Rian Johnson nudge Agatha Christie’s golden age murder mystery template into the 21st century, not just with the stylistic whimsy that many felt was lacking from a tired genre which had become the reserve of daytime television, but with one sharp eye on an undercurrent of political commentary usually deployed in the streetwise cynicism of its hardboiled scion. If Knives Out was an encouraging, firm prod into our current milieu for the genre, then its sequel, Glass Onion, is a crash, bang, wallop into thematic and aesthetic modernity, while the quaint, strangely comforting lure of rich people murdering each other still radiates from this triumphantly executed, thoroughly satisfying sequel.
The rustic aesthetics of Harlan Thombrey’s gothic mansion are replaced by the outlandish tech fetishism of billionaire Miles Bron’s (Edward Norton) private Greek island, the private quarters of which is the imposing structure of a literal glass onion which comes to personify all great murder mysteries alike; there are multiple layers to be pulled back, but the centre is right there, coddled in plain sight. It is a striking, inevitably enduring piece of iconography, as is, in fact, the entire film. It’s meticulously constructed sets which, in perhaps the most subtle of subtle nods and winks, evoke a Bond villain’s lair, and Jenny Eagan’s sumptuously observational costume designs are deliciously shot by Steve Yedlin, whose work locks in the value of seeing Glass Onion on the big screen, while Bob Duscay’s editing moves the narrative along in a spritely, consistent pace, even when it reaches its most dazzling and audacious peaks.
There are details and clues planted with laser-like precision almost from the projection of its very first frame which are most rewarding with the maintenance of prior ignorance. Critics will, within reason, come to their own judgements about how much of the setup to impart to their readers. This one, however, is taking no chances. It is just about safe to reveal that Daniel Craig returns with Benoit Blanc’s magical southern drawl and geniality. The crime and the ensemble cast, nevertheless, are different.
It is an ensemble cast which includes Kathryn Hahn as Claire Debella, an aspiring senator whose philosophy amounts to not emailing anything she wouldn’t want plastered on a front page, Leslie Odom Jr as Lionel Toussaint, a scientist who works for a Bron-funded tech conglomerate, Dave Bautista as Duke Cody, a men’s rights YouTuber joined at the hip to his girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), and Kate Hudson as Birdie Jay, a fashion designer and supermodel who has to be reminded by her assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), not to tweet racial slurs (again). Every performance embodies the precise and distinct characterisation needed to maintain clarity and intrigue through every narrative swivel and divergence, with each star benefiting from Johnson’s ability to coax pure stardust from his actors.
The standout performance, however, comes courtesy of Janelle Monáe, whose character, Cassandra, seems to mirror the guile and honesty of Ana de Armas’s Marta. Cassandra is the human heart of the story. She, of course, still has a murderous motive, but her ability to puncture the bubble of everyone else’s hypocrisy makes her an identifiable presence, expertly imbued by Monáe with fierce and magnetic nuance.
Some detractors may point out that Johnson has abandoned the rustic chic which fell within the Christie heritage by shifting the focus to the easy satirical target of tech billionaires, all the while dialling everything – the locations, the stakes – up to 11. But it isn’t merely bombast; Glass Onion is about the disruption of power structures as much as it is about an expertly woven whodunnit, which is why Benoit Blanc’s genial genius is spearheading the genre into an era which does feel more loud, more frenetic, more dictated to by these powers, than ever before. Wherever Johnson decides to take the already greenlit third instalment, I’ll be there.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is released nationwide on 23rd November 2022 and available on Netflix on 23rd December 2022.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery here: