A Knives Out Mystery movie review

What makes it a more satisfying film is that Rian Johnson sits with his characters rather than immediately showing their decadence.
Picture: John Wilson/Netflix

The rich are richer Glass Onionthe sparkling sequel to Knives out which just had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and arguably more horrifying – or, at least, horrifying in a grander and more visible way. While Rian Johnson’s 2019 thriller focused on the stunted parents of a famous novelist, people who at least pretended respectability, his novella focuses on a group of ‘disturbers’ who are important enough to practice their respective scratches from the start in the open air. Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn) is the governor of Connecticut and an aspiring senator who speaks harshly to CNN while quietly endorsing untested technology in exchange for donor money. Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) is the chief scientist of Alpha Corporation, which is responsible for this untested technology, and has rushed deadlines and bypassed safety procedures at the behest of his boss. Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) is a media personality turned sweatband brand owner who’s so prone to viral scandals that her assistant, Peg (Jessica Henwick), is her phone keeper. Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) is a social media star who’s turned to the alt-right, using his ubiquitous weapon and much younger girlfriend, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline), as props.

The richest and most repulsive of them all is Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who is the host of the weekend getaway in which the mystery unfolds, a tycoon and supposed genius who doesn’t seem to do much other than mythologizing himself and using his money to push people around. It owes more than a little to Elon Musk, but these crumbling pillars of contemporary society are all made to feel at least a little familiar. (Perhaps all too familiar, in the case of Hudson, who is an absolute screamer as the tasteless Birdie, but whose sportswear brand has been privy to accusations of labor abuse similar to those of the society of his character, a convergence that is more of a joke to the spending audience than his own.) Glass Onion is larger and more precisely designed than Knives out, but what makes it a more satisfying film is that it sits more with its characters rather than immediately showing their decadence. Instead, it’s the kind of emptiness that comes from a life of small moral compromises, until you suddenly find yourself on a Greek island with old friends, contemplating murder.

Clearly there’s a murder, though it eventually happens rather than near the start of the film, tensions simmer during an annual gathering on the private Greek island of Miles, where he’s delightfully built a mansion hideous which includes a transparent dome filled with billionaire bachelor decor – a Taj Mahal douchebag. This year, Miles plans to throw a murder mystery party, although he has two surprise guests. Andi (Janelle Monáe), the former business partner who unsuccessfully sued him when he fired her from their company, was not due to show up. And Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the master detective of Knives out, was not invited at all, and yet became the recipient of one of the personalized puzzle boxes that Miles had shipped to the chosen participants. Craig’s obvious enjoyment of playing White, with his scarves and fried Southern accent, is infectious, and Glass OnionThe longer wind-up of allows for insight into the character’s personal life, which includes random but enjoyable cameos. Johnson allows events to morph into a pivotal party sequence made jittery by its slightly too fast editing, then takes us back to the beginning, revisiting scenes from different angles and with new information.

Even so, it is intricately constructed and set in an extravagant Mediterranean location, Glass Onion has an underlying context that isn’t at all exotic – it’s a film that takes place around the start of the pandemic without feeling consumed by it. Instead, COVID serves as the backdrop but also the source for some key character details, from the famous painting that Miles managed to get on loan from a museum to the useless mesh face mask that Birdie prefers. Movies set in the early days of our global awareness of the novel coronavirus tended to all feel the same way, as many of us were just sitting at home feeling scary, isolated and terribly bored. But the characters of Glass Onion are not the type to have the impression of being subject to these same rules, even those who consider themselves theoretically more responsible. They basically do a short, super high-end version of band-making, speeding right into the dramas that come with the collapse of so many similar arrangements. Contrary to Knives outwhich borders on complacency in its politics, Glass Onion allows his class critiques to be integrated into the characterizations of his gallery of thug suspects, who are also living through a moment that has temporarily united so much of the world, but who are not like us at all.

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Luz W. German