- Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
- Written and directed by Rian Johnson
- Starring Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae and Edward Norton
- Classification PG; 139 minutes
- Opens in select theatres Nov. 23; streaming on Netflix starting Dec. 23
Perhaps I’m partly to blame, or maybe thank. When writer-director Rian Johnson’s first Knives Out movie came out in 2019, I singled out Daniel Craig’s wonderfully loopy performance as ace detective Benoit Blanc by sentencing the British actor to a lifetime of performing solely with the molasses-thick, Deep-South accent that he drawls in the film. I didn’t realize at the time that this was Johnson’s plan all along. Three years later, we have a new Benoit Blanc adventure to enjoy, with the explicit promise from Johnson that audiences will get an indefinite supply of drawlin’ Daniel whodunits for years to come, should the sequel deliver the goods.
And deliver the goods Glass Onion does – this new Knives Out mystery is one of the purest pop pleasures of the season, the kind of irresistible crowd-pleaser that balances its franchise obligations with a clear sense of wit and creative purpose. It also might be the fourth-best thing that Netflix has ever financed, after The Irishman, Roma and Uncut Gems, respectively. All due credit to Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars that his company threw at Johnson to make it happen. The next big mystery for Benoit Blanc to solve, then: Just how much of Netflix’s Knives Out 2 budget resulted in my subscription price being hiked earlier this year? We may never know. But at least the case in Glass Onion is comparatively easier to solve.
Summoned to a luxe Greek island by an Elon Musk-esque tycoon named Miles Bron (Edward Norton), Blanc must figure out who among his new client’s coterie of high-flying friends is guilty of cold-blooded murder. Is it the obnoxious Joe Rogan-like podcast host Duke Cody (Dave Bautista)? The AOC-meets-Nancy Pelosi politico Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn)? The Steve Wozniak-ish scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.)? Or the Kate Hudson-y actor Birdie Jay played by … Kate Hudson? The only suspect who doesn’t fit into an easy celebrity facsimile is the soft-spoken entrepreneur Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), who also happens to be Miles’s ex – and is carrying to the island enough physical and emotional baggage to fill Bron’s titular, Beatles-inspired glass mansion.
Johnson, an old hand by now at the detective game thanks to not only the first Knives Out but also the high-school noir Brick and the con-artist caper The Brothers Bloom, digs deep into the history of the whodunnit to refashion the genre into a cinematic pretzel of twists and triple-takes. Just when you think that you have figured out which rug will next be pulled out from under you, Johnson reveals that there are rugs woven inside rugs woven inside even tinier rugs – and that the floor beneath those many carpets isn’t actually a floor at all, but a ceiling.
I’ll admit that, when initially announced, Glass Onion’s cast list underwhelmed. The first Knives Out had a murderer’s row of murderers, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas and Don Johnson. Oh, and Christopher Plummer. And LaKeith Stanfield. And more? Probably more. Yet everyone in Glass Onion is here for a deliciously perfect reason.
Bautista lays into his red-pilled fool with a muscular zeal that showcases the bruiser’s natural talent for deadpan. Monae balances very tricky narrative responsibilities with slick ease. Norton fuses his notoriously prickly public persona with a slime-ball tech-bro charm to create a hiss-worthy dolt (he also at one point dresses exactly like Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia, so extra bonus points). Hudson, the film’s surprise MVP, hasn’t been so charming and sharp since her breakthrough in Almost Famous two decades ago. (Is the actor in fact better here than as Cameron Crowe’s Penny Lane? I’m here to heretically argue … maybe!)
Backing everyone up, meanwhile, is Craig, who delivers the film’s many craned necks and raised eyebrows with an effortless finesse. If the actor plays his cards right, Benoit Blanc just might be the headline – and James Bond the footnote – in the actor’s eventual obituary.
Like even the most seemingly perfect crime, though, there are hitches and catches. A flood of early film cameos sells too hard the idea that this is Hollywood’s favourite new franchise. The first act involves a decent amount of COVID-19 talk, which briefly deflates the film’s escapist charms – and when Johnson decides he’s had enough pandemic talk, the problem is magically quashed. There are also several shots that seem designed mostly to be screen-captured and meme-ified on Twitter (maybe Elon caught wind of this, and his current corporate escapades are simply pre-emptive strikes against Johnson). But once the whole bloody affair is sorted, these cutely annoying issues hardly matter.
Is this the home run – an all-audience- and critic-friendly hit – that Netflix has been waiting for? Not quite, as half the fun of Glass Onion is watching the film’s many layers peel away while in the company of a raucous crowd. Every plot pivot and sight gag works to drive a full house into an infectious state of “aha!” agitation. It is anyone’s guess how the action will play out in the cold comfort of a Netflix subscriber’s home.
But I have faith in Johnson’s ability to crack cases previously thought uncrackable. May Daniel Craig never speak in his native tongue again.