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Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Benoit Blanc is back on the case in this sequel to 2019's whodunnit hit 'Knives Out', which serves up another smart and superbly cast puzzle box of a film.
By Sarah Ward
November 23, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
November 23, 2022
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Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery opens with a puzzle box inside a puzzle box. The former is a wooden cube delivered out of the blue, the latter the followup to 2019 murder-mystery hit Knives Out, and both are as tightly, meticulously, cleverly and cannily orchestrated as each other. The physical version has siblings, all sent to summon a motley crew of characters to the same place, as these types of flicks need to boast. The film clearly has its own brethren, and slots in beside its predecessor as one of the genre's gleaming standouts. More Knives Out movies will follow as well, which the two so far deserve to keep spawning as long as writer/director Rian Johnson (Star Wars: Episode VIII — The Last Jedi) and Benoit Blanc-playing star Daniel Craig (No Time to Die) will make them. Long may they keep the franchise's key detective and audience alike sleuthing. Long may they have everyone revelling in every twist, trick and revelation, as the breezy blast that is Glass Onion itself starts with.

What do Connecticut Governor and US Senate candidate Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn, WandaVision), model-slash-designer-slash-entrepreneur Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson, Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon), scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr, The Many Saints of Newark) and gun-toting, YouTube-posting men's rights activist Duke Cody (Dave Bautista, Thor: Love and Thunder) all have in common when this smart and savvy sequel kicks off? They each receive those literal puzzle boxes, of course, and they visibly enjoy their time working out what they're about. The cartons are the key to their getaway to Greece — their invites, in fact — and also perfectly emblematic of this entire feature. It's noteworthy that this quartet carefully but playfully piece together clues to unveil the contents inside, aka Glass Onion's exact modus operandi. That said, it's also significant that a fifth recipient of these elaborate squares simply decides to smash their way inside with a hammer. As Brick and Looper also showed, Johnson knows when to attentively dole out exactly what he needs to; however, he also knows when to let everything spill out.

Claire, Birdie, Lionel and Duke share something else: they're all considered "disruptors" by tech mogul Miles Bron (Edward Norton, The French Dispatch), form part of his inner circle and get together annually for one-percenter vacations on his dime. He's behind their unexpected packages and their latest lavish getaway, which takes them not only to a picturesque private island, but also to a sprawling mansion decked out with a glimmering dome he actually calls a glass onion. Also in attendance is Miles' former business partner Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe, Antebellum), with whom nothing ended well, which gives the trip a skin of tension. And, there's the cravat-wearing Blanc, who couldn't be a better addition to the guest list — Miles has corralled this distinctive cohort for a weekend-long whodunnit party, after all.

Blanc doesn't quote Sherlock Holmes and proclaim "the game is afoot" in Glass Onion, as he did the first time around, but it is. Several are. Miles wants his visitors to solve his own faux murder, but soon there's a real death slicing into what's meant to be a fun jaunt. Everyone is a suspect, because that's how this setup works. The Southern-drawled Blanc's presence proves mighty handy, swiftly segueing into "world's greatest detective" mode. No one needs him to glean the murder-mystery fundamentals, though. As told with an initially more linear narrative, little is what it seems on this swanky, intricately crafted vacation, including among the mostly high-achieving but secretly spatting group. And yes, as the bickering and backstabbing gets bloody — and the fast-paced story keeps unfurling — everyone has a motive.

The Knives Out films can be enjoyed as pure on-screen rounds of Cluedo of the most entertaining kind, and as self-aware, affectionate and intelligent detective puzzles in the Agatha Christie mould. With their sharpness, mischievousness and effervescence, they easily show up the author's most recent page-to-screen adaptations, aka the clunky latest Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. Johnson also has the keenest of eyes for ensuring that every inch of every frame and every detail in every set entices and teases, with impressive help from his now six-time cinematographer Steve Yedlin, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power production designer Rick Heinrichs and returning costumer Jenny Eagan. His whodunnit flicks get viewers gleefully playing along, lapping up surprises and thrills. And yet at the same time, they have audiences happily sitting back for the ride as both Johnson and the never-more-delightful Craig do their best.

Everyone's doing stellar work in Glass Onion, especially the killer cast. This is the latest of many, many starry crews with a murderer in their midst —see also: fellow 2022 releases Bodies Bodies Bodies and See How They Run — and it's superbly compiled, including Jessica Henwick (The Gray Man) as Birdie's exasperated assistant, Madelyn Cline (Outer Banks) as Duke's girlfriend and a heap of genre-adoring cameos. As a sweep-you-long feature, the film serves up the sheer pleasure of watching its actors play their parts with such aplomb, and also benefits from fleshing out its characters before there's a body count. There needs to be such meat on this movie's bones, and more than merely one-note pawns on its board, because getting biting and blistering — and also being timely and topical — is another of the series' ongoing highlights. A more-cash-than-sense billionaire making a mess? The entitled, privileged set doing anything for money, and to uphold their status and lifestyles? Yes, the Knives Out franchise is eating the rich again, this time on a The White Lotus-esque holiday.

Accusations zip around Glass Onion with frequency, potency and a sting, but no one can accuse Johnson of just repeating himself. As an early reference to Bach's 'Fugue in G minor' nods at, this is an onion of a flick that stacks its layers atop each other to create something new, and shines in a different way with each one. Also, where plenty of sequels to successful pictures rinse and repeat, this instead builds a fresh game out of similar but never identical pieces. A case in point: the decision to set the movie in May 2020, when the pandemic is all that most people were thinking about, and lockdown life was far, far removed from international travel, pool dips and cocktails with a view. That choice brings more sight gags, like Birdie's pointless mesh mask, but more importantly it lets the film dice up its targets with more force. They're squabbling and slaying in luxury while everyone else was staring at their own four walls for months on end, and doesn't this new gem cut them up for it.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery screens in cinemas from Wednesday, November 23–Tuesday, November 29, then streams via Netflix from Saturday, December 23.

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