" much a creative success as its predecessor."

New Knives as Sharp as the First

(010623) With Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson didn't redefine or revolutionize the old, familiar genre of the murder mystery, but he did play with the tone, methods, and structure of that genre for genuine surprises and to considerably successful effect. The film was an impressive juggling act of a twisty thriller and a pointed class comedy, which also happened to serve as an engaging little mystery by the time our intrepid detective got around to piecing everything together in a satisfactory way.

Because that film was as successful as it was, a sequel more or less became inevitable. Besides, Johnson set himself up for at least one future installment by way of introducing a most intriguing detective. The hope was that the adventures of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), the last of the traditional "gentleman detectives," would continue. The main fear might be that Johnson wouldn't be able to recapture the spirit and, especially, the ingenuity of Blanc's first mystery. Glass Onion dispels the latter worry, re-enforces Johnson's skill as a weaver of puzzles, and only makes one more excited about the possibility of Blanc returning again and again to solve new mysteries every couple of years.

It is a completely new whodunit this time around, with a new cast of noteworthy actors playing deliciously eccentric characters in a new setting. Blanc returns, obviously, as does Craig, who again makes a big impression with his genial manner and a sense of legitimate intelligence as the character. He also displays a considerable amount of generosity as an actor to know that, while he may be the star, his character is more a passive sounding board for his co-stars than one who takes the spotlight.

The detective's job, after all, is to observe, listen, and quietly deduce the nature of a crime, a criminal's motives, and the means by which that crime has been perpetrated. The suspects are, in theory, the real draw that keeps us engaged.

Here, Johnson has collected a great set of likely killers and potential victims. Indeed, the filmmaker seems so attached to each of them and fascinated by their blatant foibles that he seems a little hesitant to knock off even one of them to start the plot in motion.

That's fine, because it allows us to become re-acquainted with Blanc, who finds himself in a bit of a rut, and to discover the depths of feuds and follies among the party of possible murderers/victims. While the first film had fun toying with the selfish and aloof nature of a wealthy family, this one feels a bit more obviously and pointedly satirical in its dissection of how wealth and fame can shape people for the worse. This follow-up works just as well as a crafty mystery and, eventually, an unexpected thriller as its predecessor—which is to say that it functions in those modes quite, quite well. As a comedy, though, Johnson's sequel is funnier about and more ruthless against its deserving targets.

As for Blanc, he's in a downcast mood. With no mysteries to solve during the recent pandemic, he spends his time playing video games (The identities of his competition offer the first few of the film's unexpected cameos) and seemingly living out of his bathtub. Meanwhile, some elaborate puzzle boxes are arriving at the homes of a group of well-to-do, long-time friends.

They have been sent by Miles Bron (Edward Norton), the head of a tech empire, who has invited his closest pals to get away from the pandemic, spend a weekend at his palatial estate on a private island in the Aegean Sea, and participate in a friendly game of a murder mystery. Blanc receives an invite, too, but upon arriving with the rest of the party, Bron privately admits that Blanc's puzzle box didn't come from him. The detective knows from experience, of course, that an anonymous invitation is nothing to dismiss as an innocent gesture.

As for the members of this party, there's Miles, a self-indulgent and egotistical billionaire given some down-to-earth charm, as well as plenty of reason to doubt that positive trait, by Norton. His pals include Claire (Kathryn Hahn), a state governor with a populist bent and a no-nonsense way of talking that are surely hiding—or outwardly displaying—something sinister, and Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), one of the top scientists at Miles' company who knows something about his boss' next big plan.

Additionally, Kate Hudson plays Birdie, a fashion model and designer who regularly gets in trouble on social media for statements that she believes are just "too honest," and Dave Bautista portrays Duke, who makes videos about "men's rights" out of his mother's basement. Rounding out the main guests is Janelle Monáe as Andi, Miles' former business partner. She shocks everyone with her arrival, considering it follows a lengthy lawsuit against the tech mogul didn't go her way.

To just explain which character or which number among the characters dies, how they die, and when they die would be to divulge too much. That's especially true, because Johnson takes his time to establish these characters and their relationships. Beyond that, part of the game the filmmaker is playing includes a wickedly clever reversal of one "who" and "when"—a statement that hopefully makes no sense to those who have yet to see the film and quite a lot more sense to those who have.

Of the mystery or mysteries, what can be said is that they're elaborate in their parsing of both clues and pieces of misdirection. When the story does make that most significant turnaround, the new perspective provided by it adds a level of suspense, a rather unanticipated degree of sympathy for one character, and a great deal of admiration for how well one of these actors plays a role that appears to be one way, only for the role to be a role of sorts itself. Again, that should make no sense to the uninitiated, but if you have watched the film, the strength of that performance should be self-evident without the hints or vague descriptions.

To put it more plainly, Glass Onion is as much a creative success as its predecessor. It's fun and funny and, as exemplified by the way the big revelation is both a satisfactory solution and a well-deserved piece of character assassination, full of righteous outrage.

Directed & Written by:    Rian Johnson
Starring:    Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe
Released:    11/23/22 (USA)
Length:    139 minutes
Rating:    Rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content
Available On :    At press time the film was available on Netflix

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Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.




"Vito's 2022 Cinema Retrospective"