As much as I enjoyed writer/director Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, nothing quite prepared me for how much I laughed during the follow-up Glass Onion, the mystery-solving adventure of the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) that peers into the lives of the rich, influential and supremely stupid. One of Johnson’s goals seems simple: to help us understand Blanc’s place in pop culture. He is a known quantity around the world, has Zoom get-togethers with other greats in their respective fields (the cameos in this movie are absurd and cause for celebration); we even learn a little bit about his home life. So when he shows up to an exclusive murder-mystery weekend gathering thrown for the closest friends of billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), people are surprised to see him but don’t really question it, thinking Miles has hired him to help with the mystery at hand—just another example of the host reminding them how rich and influential he is. Except Miles has no idea why Blanc is there, either.
That’s the jumping-off point of Glass Onion, but it is far from the film’s point or the endgame. Miles has indeed invited his oldest pals to this party to investigate his own (fake) death. Among those in attendance are Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), a scientist working for Bron, Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), former model/fashion designer/social media menace Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and male-power influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), along with his significant other, Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). Aside from Blanc, the real surprise arrival to the gathering is Miles’ former business partner, Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), who was burned by everyone else at this by a party in a lawsuit about co-ownership of the company, which is why no one can figure out why she’d show up. But she has her reasons.
If I’m being honest, the first chapter of Glass Onion, when we’re introduced to the characters/suspects, wasn’t working for me at first. Everyone’s performances seemed a bit too broad and unfocused. And while the Green island location of Miles’ party is quite lovely, it just looks like Johnson was spending that Netflix money in all the right ways. It doesn’t help that it takes a while for someone to actually die so that we can actually kick off Blanc’s investigation. But all of that turned around for me in the film’s centerpiece dinner scene when Blanc solves Miles’ death mystery game before it’s even begun, ruining the reason for the party and bringing us to the real point of the film. That’s also where Johnson’s true purpose at skewering the rich and burning down all they hold sacred comes to light in ways I can’t reveal.
Miles lives in a palace that literally features a glass onion-shaped structure that holds some of his deepest secrets. He has the actual Mona Lisa on loan from the Louvre during lockdown (this story is very specifically and cleverly set during COVID times, circa mid-2020), and he’s got a Kato Kaelin-like house guest (Noah Segan, the only holdover actor from Knives Out, aside from Craig), who wanders in and out of scenes, declaring “I’m not here.” Naturally, everyone has reasons to want Miles dead, but they also need him alive to take advantage of his wealth and influence. And not to jump to the end, but the way Blanc solves this particular mystery is astonishing, hilarious, and forces him (and us) to look at the world around him in an entirely different way. It’s a remarkable leap of faith and takes him so completely by surprise that he seems more astonished that he missed all the signs and less relieved that the killer’s identity has been discovered.
Johnson is in full burn-the-rich mode, and it suits him. Blanc is successful, but he’s clearly not as rich or powerful as anyone in this group. He resents them to a degree but also feels sorry for them for thinking that wealth means you’re smarter or better than others. Everyone has secrets to be ashamed of, and that’s why they lied at Andi’s trial; they’re embarrassed by their behavior but not to the point where they would have done things differently if given a redo. The film captures this awkward part of their existence. Glass Onion is so much more than a whodunit, although that part of the story is still wildly intriguing and brutally funny. Much like an actual onion, it’s when you peel back the layers that you reveal is tastiest bits. The film is spectacular to look at, so try to catch this in theaters when you can. And it’s one of those rare treats that is actually more fun to watch a second and third time (which I have done, so you can trust me).
The film is now playing theatrically for one week, and will begin streaming on Netflix on December 23.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!