I don’t think it’s a coincidence that since Rian Johnson’s Knives Out that there’s been some interest in full length feature murder mysteries. What makes them effective is good writing and an ensemble cast that works well together: upon rewatch, or maybe during the first watch, you can poke holes in the murder plot that law enforcement would have been able to spot, or not been carried out in the first place. Heck, there’s Columbo episodes where they trace calls in one episode but don’t bother to do so in another even if a phone was used. These kinds of movies don’t want you to think about it. That’s what the writing and cast is for: misdirect you, adding another layer of mystery to what might be an obvious mystery.
I caught Knives Out a few months after it came out in late 2019 and I super enjoyed it. I wanted to talk to others about it, but a few friends dismissed it. Too talky, too obvious. Maybe because one actor has enough screen time to make it easy to pinpoint as the villain, but it wasn’t so much “who done it” as “how will the protagonist get out of it” – a plot about the misdirect that leads to a character thinking they were involved and their attempts to cover it up. And then there’s Daniel Craig’s detective Benoit Blanc, whom the filmmakers debated making a phony if there were future installments (they really considered if he should have different accents each time). Blanc who is there to solve the crime with his flamboyant style as if he were the normal one trying to solve the murder, while ripping off the facade of the supposedly tightknit Thromby family. I watched it a lot – the Thrombys are all something else, equally phony if not moreso than what they think this nosy Blanc is. There’s a few problems and Johnson wasn’t too subtle in pointing out the hypocrisy & entitlement the white knight stereotypes the Thrombys are and how they feel about what’s theirs (which I still enjoyed). I especially enjoy that the filming was a rush job, to squeeze in busy actors involved in other series & films before the northeast setting is covered in snow, and yet Johnson squeezed in some great imagery & setups.
So, Glass Onion is the further adventure of Benoit Blanc, dragged into a weekend outing of some friends who owe their success to a billionaire jerk who couldn’t have been more a commentary of Elon Musk, which may seem trite now considering how Musk has dived into cartoon villainy since being forced to buy Twitter. This movie was filmed before all that, which makes Edward Norton’s Musk type character such a prescient commentary. Norton invites these friends to his private island for a murder mystery. They also all depend on him for their success and or second chances, and Blanc claims to be there by invite to which Norton doesn’t recall sending.
From there, Norton’s former business partner Andi (Janelle Monae) also shows up, disrupting the party and letting the other guests know she won’t forgive them for not standing up to Norton after he stole the company that bankrolls them from her. All is not as it seems, and though there’s digs at the game Clue, there’s cues from the movie Clue, with misdirects on who dies and a few secrets that further reluctantly tie the guests together. Blanc is there to solve the mystery but only acts as a Mad Max in Road Warrior and Fury Road – just a proxy to assist one of the characters in getting some revenge on whoever in the group wronged them.
There’s a bigger budget and more time, so Norton’s island mansion and the convoluted no-way-is-that-spacially-accurate invite puzzle box gave some VFX teams some work. But from there, there’s more great lines and hilarious performances, with Kate Hudson’s obtuse influencer to Dave Bautista’s men’s right gamer streamer, who comes off as over the top but subtly tries to maintain hold of Norton’s favor. It also takes place in a single night, making it more tense once the murder(s) start happening and the cast, stuck on an island with each other and one or more of them might be murderers.
Was the solution painfully obvious? Was the plot twist contrived? I don’t know. I had a bunch of fun. I don’t want to spoil anything either. There was a point where the movie was kinda pulling at my heartstrings (a “shoot the dog” moment) only for there to be a deus ex machina but it’s also PG13 and also there’s enough pain in the world so let us have a little bit of a coincidence. I mean, these movies are nothing but setup and great dialogue, so what else did I expect?
To go further into the movie would include spoilers. I enjoyed it, I’d recommend it. It’s not perfect but it’s a ton of fun and had a lot of great laughs. Here’s a couple observations:
-Rian Johnson’s pal Noah Segan is in the movie, but he’s another character, and not the beloved Trooper Wagner from Knives Out. Bummer, how funny would it be if Trooper Wagner ended up on a Greek island to hang out with Benoit Blanc again?
-Jeremy Renner’s hot sauce, “Renning Hot!” OMG.
-I felt like Knives Out was Rian Johnson telling all the Star Wars fans that he knows how to make a movie. I’ve said it before: he didn’t write a script and film and edit everything and then ran out of LucasArts/Disney with a finished film cannister, being chased by Kathleen Kennedy. They let him write & film it, they approved of it at every step. But then I read about John Boyega’s claim that he earnestly thought Finn was set up to have a bigger arc starting in The Force Awakens, and I really thought that his C story in The Last Jedi could have been cut and we wouldn’t have missed it. So while I enjoy how Rian came up with a story that could have ended the franchise there and throwing fanboys into chaos, but it does suck that Boyega got the short end of film; his character had potential. I STILL haven’t seen Episode 9, btw.
-Minor spoiler: Norton’s facial expressions when anyone challenges him, from his former and estranged business partner showing up to having Blanc throw off his murder mystery introduction by asking what the partygoer who solves it wins. The billionaire goes to the trouble to drag his friends across the globe for a fake murder and never thought that any of the lesser mortals he controls would want to be rewarded for amusing him.
-People ask if scripted shows or movies will address the pandemic, and this one does along with masks, social distancing, and profiting from the pandemic. Kate Hudson’s character wears a not-even-mesh mask, and I don’t think she did it to rub it in as an anti-masker. Just a perfect dummy.