Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery Review (TIFF)

PLOT: Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) travels to a remote island in Greece to solve a murder involving a reclusive tech billionaire (Edward Norton).

REVIEW: Knives Out will probably become one of TIFF’s biggest success stories. Considered a risky gamble in its time, the movie proved to be a sensation upon its first screening. in the end, Knives Out was a smash hit at the box office that Netflix (who snapped up the rights to the series) has turned into what’s bound to become their first real franchise. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is bigger and perhaps even more brilliantly written than the first, sporting a tremendous cast led by Daniel Craig and Janelle Monáe.

If Glass Onions suffers at all, it’s that we go into it expecting a twisty murder mystery, while the original took us by surprise as it was so unique. It was such a sensation it made the genre hip again, taking it out of the parlor rooms of an Agatha Christie mystery and modernizing it. More than anything, it was a rare adult movie that played well on the big screen, and even though this will have a theatrical component, I wager more people will see this streaming than they will on the big screen.

That’s too bad because Johnson, clearly working with a larger budget, has made a lavish murder mystery that pays tribute to one of his often-cited influences, the 1970’s whodunnit, The Last of Sheila. The movie smartly uses the pandemic as a jumping-off point, explaining the move to Greece, where Edward Norton’s reclusive tech billionaire’s inner circle has been summoned. He wants them to play a murder mystery game, and Blanc has been invited to tag along. For the very bored detective, who’s spent most of the pandemic sulking in a bathtub, the trip proves to be a welcome distraction, and it’s not long before he realizes he’s amongst another rogues gallery full of folks with secrets to keep.

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There’s Dave Bautista as a dopey “men’s rights” activist (but isn’t portrayed as especially hateful) who’s big on Twitch (with Madelyn Cline has his trophy girlfriend “Whiskey”), Kate Hudson (in a hilarious performance) as a pea- brained fashion mogul (with Jessica Henwick as her harried assistant). Kathryn Hahn is a would-be politician, while Leslie Odom Jr is Norton’s very busy number two.

Everyone is brilliant, but two of the cast members utterly steal the show. One is Edward Norton, who hasn’t been this loose in years and sends up the so-called “genius” innovator type to perfection, with a particular flair for malapropisms. He would dominate the film were it not for Monáe, who initially comes off as low-key, but quickly emerges as perhaps the most impressive player in the whole movie. That said, the less known about her role, the better.

As for Daniel Craig, once again, Blanc is primarily an observer, with the plot revolving around the friends, but he does get more screen time than he did in Knives Out. We learn a bit more about Blanc this time, and I expect that as the series goes on, Johnson will drop more clues, making him less of an enigma as time goes by. Once again, he’s heroic, with more interest in justice than any kind of personal reward, and his chemistry with Monáe is as strong as it was with Ana de Armas. Johnson has a knack for casting, but I imagine that given how brilliant his writing is, every actor in Hollywood wants to get the chance to speak his dialogue about him.

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Playing in a bigger sandbox this time, Johnson can’t resist the urge to go a little bigger, with the climax taking advantage of that Netflix budget. The 139-minute running time is perhaps a little indulgent, but after a bit of a slow start, things move along at a nice pace. It takes a while to settle into the mystery, but once the key players get to Greece, the film is off to the races and doesn’t let up until a familiar Beatles song plays on the soundtrack.

One thing worth noting is the impressive production design, with the set that’s the actual Glass Onion of the title, which would have made Ken Adam proud. The score by Nathan Johnson is excellent and peppered with some unique needle drops, and the movie is jam-packed with cameos that, hopefully, no one spoils.

While I probably have to see Glass Onions again before deciding whether it totally measures up to the original, it’s still a blast from start to finish. One thing is for sure – no one will walk out of this not wanting to see more Benoit Blanc adventures.


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