Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, 2022 (Daniel Craig) T-Street Productions/Netflix*
“If you want to shake things up, you start with something small. You break a norm or an idea or a convention, some little business model, but you go with things that people are kind of tired of anyway. Everybody gets excited because you’re busting up something that everyone wanted broken in the first place. That’s the infraction point. That’s the place where you have to look within yourself, and ask: Am I the kind of person who will keep going? Will you break more things? Break bigger things? Be willing to break the thing that nobody wants you to break? Because at that point, people are not going to be on your side. They’re going to call you crazy. They’re gonna say you’re a bully. They’re gonna tell you to stop. Even your partner will say you need to stop. Because as it turns out, nobody wants you to break the system itself. But that is what true disruption is, and that is what unites all of us. We all got to that line, and crossed it.”**
It might’ve been Christmas night last year when I walked out after the first (roughly) ten minutes of Rian Johnson’s latest opus, Knives Onion: A Glass Out Mystery (something like that—Sliced Onions, Knives Out, Knives Slicing Onions?) Onions! Onions have layers. The “layers” line of dialogue had been the subject of several “humorous” remarks in social media comment threads. People looooove to be clever, don’t they? I’m not actually asking. I know you think you’re clever reading my review and all, but we should probably call it a rhetorical question.
See how I’m going on? That’s how Rian Johnson writes … and writes … and writes. Most writers sweat over every word, every detail. Most directors sweat over every camera movement, every placement of light and how it dances with different colors. I may go back and edit this review, cut it down for brevity and tell the story in the most economical terms, or I may not. It’s my choice. I’m offered unparalleled creative freedom, and I can pretty much write what I want to write, so from my powerless vantage point, it’s odd that I know when to stop and roll my proverbial credits and let people go home and get back to their lives.
Glass Knives is a two-and-a-half hour movie that should’ve ended after 90 minutes. It’s a simple story that wants to make itself seem more important than it actually is. A hundred million Netflix dollars in Rian Johnson’s bank account provide validation for his work, and this is only for his Knives and Onions work. We won’t get a Looper 2 out of this, or a Brick 2, or The Young Rose Tico Chronicles movie. Instead, the flavor of the day … is Benoit Blanc (or Benny Blanco from ‘da Bronx, as I call him) played by Daniel Craig (until he is aged out of his role and replaced by Jenna Ortega or Zendaya).
I want to get this out of the way first. I don’t dislike Rian Johnson. I think he’s a gifted visualist. He directed the best episodes of Breaking Bad: “Fly,” (my personal favorite) “Fifty-One,” and “Ozymandias.” The man is gifted, there’s no doubting that, but he is a visual storyteller, not a writer of structure or dialogue. Rian Johnson wants to be different. He wants to be different to the point of making his work (specifically Last Jedi, Knives Out, and now Glass Onion) play like an effortless rough draft screenplay.
I know how he feels. It’s difficult when the best movies have already been made. The best “everything” has been done, but I also think both Knives Out and Glass Onion would have benefited from liberal use of scissors not only in running time but also in dialogue. Exposition is as thick as a slice of chocolate truffle cake, and when there isn’t exposition, characters are constantly telling each other (and us) what they’re going to do and then they proceed to do the thing they told us they were going to do. That. Is Not. Mystery.
Mystery is misdirection. Distraction. Accusation. Tension. Time. Pressure. Revelation. There’s plenty of misdirect, but it’s misdirect involving incredibly (like, seriously cartoonishly) stupid people. In fact, the characters in this movie are so stupid, you might suspect they were mildly retarded or (more charitably) “special needs.” I’m jumping ahead. The deceptively complicated adventure begins when ka-jillionaire, poseur, “genius” industrialist Miles Bron (Edward Norton), by way of an awesome puzzle box, invites his closest frenemies to his private island for a murder mystery weekend.
Two people not on his list, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), Google’s top-rated detective (I don’t know how that works—unless he’s at the top of the SEO) and the mysterious Cassandra Brand (Janelle Monáe), arrive, shaking Bron to his core, and this is when I already figured out the entire movie and left the room in disgust initially. Hey, I came back eventually. I came home. I sat in the rain for two hours, but I came back two weeks later. The caricatures and sociopaths that round out Bron’s clutch/cadre of “disruptors” (God, I hate these people) are allegedly brilliant captains of industry.
Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), governor of Connecticut and certified moron. Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), fashion designer, internet influencer and certified moron. Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), video game streamer/podcaster and certified moron. Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), brilliant scientist and certified moron. I think you get the point, and I think the point pisses you off. If you ever thought intellect equals success and financial prosperity, Glass Onion is a harsh reminder that you (and your brains) mean nothing in the ultimate scheme.
Yet when Blanc (late in the movie) calls out Miles Bron for being a certified moron, the statement falls to the floor with a hollow, unsatisfying thud, because for all his pretension and bizarre word usage, he remains smarter than his disruptors (as well as Cassandra). The “murder mystery weekend” part of the movie (as well as the bizarre Covid lockdown backdrop) doesn’t matter as Blanc solves the “crime” within 50 minutes of the running time, but it does set up the basis for Bron’s impetuous, amoral manner.
It’s not that we needed to know Bron is a magpie, swiping ideas and baubles with gusto, but we begin to understand the relationships he has with his “friends”. In a sense, he owns them because of his financial connections and because of the dirt he has on them. I’m reminded of the saga of Jeffrey Epstein and his private island, and I think Rian Johnson wants to put Miles Bron together with Epstein and, I guess (?) Elon Musk, although I can’t see any connection with that person mainly because these are cultivated “celebrity” types and not real people.
To me, Elon Musk (and all celebrities) is as real as Miles Bron. He’s simply a character that lives inside my computer or TV-Lookity-Box***, yet people (real flesh-and-blood people) treat him as though he is real. Go figure. They’re as bloodless as every aspect of Glass Onion. Every character (including Blanc and Brand) is a thin piece of cardboard being moved around impressive-looking sets created by people who hate their jobs.
You really do get the feeling the cast is completely miserable having to negotiate Johnson’s text-predictive dialogue, but they know he’s got the keys to the Netflix kingdom and is probably the reason their favorite shows were canceled, as well as why their subscription rates went up. Something (I guess) unexpected happens when Bautista’s character, Duke, dies suddenly (gasp! and suddenly I’m at the top of the SEO!) after being poisoned with pineapple. He gave us an early warning for his demise with the statement, “Duke don’t dance with pineapple.”
We knew it was going to happen, but I have to point out that most of the cast is in their 40s and 50s, yet they all talk this way. Bron, for his part, smacks us in the face with lines like, “That is so legit,” and “I’m gonna foil.” I understand that Johnson wants us to hate these characters, but why does he want us to hate these characters? Why did Johnson make every character the equivalent of a drooling, babbling moron? I’m serious. If any of these people existed in reality, they would all be sitting in padded rooms or wearing helmets to protect their “special needs” brains.
This is TV-Show-Stupid! There’s no way any of these people would even fall ass-backwards into a pile of money, let alone become the “elite.” It makes me wonder if all the Kanyes, Kims, and Elons of the world are not simply putting on a performance of their stupidity for the rest of us to be entertained. Is Rian Johnson trying to make a point? That would be great if this movie were anything but a mystery! It’s supposed to be a mystery! After Duke does his final dance with pineapple and expires on the carpet, Glass Onion finally becomes a murder mystery.
What happens next is the movie’s final undoing. It is revealed in short order that the real Cassandra Banks was murdered and that her twin sister, Helen, has approached celebrated Google-certified detective, Benoit Blanc, to solve the mystery, or find the killer, or whatever… Blanc persuades Helen to assume the role of Cassandra and pretend like nothing happened to throw all the interested parties off balance, or at least get somebody to show their hand. I don’t have a problem with the twin revelation other than its placement and structure.
In a mystery, you don’t tell the audience what you’re going to do and then do it, and you certainly don’t reveal a twin halfway through. You reveal the twin at the end of the movie with grand flourish! Blanc stands in the center of the Accusing Parlor, points his finger and intones, “You didn’t know that Cassandra … HAS A TWIN!“ And then there are gasps and monocles are dropped into glasses of Jared Leto’s Kombucha. I can’t stand Jared Leto and he isn’t even in this movie! Also, how did her friends not know she had a twin?
It’s weird how this movie makes me hate. I’m not a fan of Norton or Hudson, but I never hated them until this movie. I remember when Kathryn Hahn was a decent actor. Janelle Monáe is not an actor, and it shows. She says everything in the same tone of voice (with an infuriatingly fake Alabama “accent” to boot) and her face is expressionless throughout the ENTIRE MOVIE. Ethan Hawke and Hugh Grant are in the movie for five seconds for NO REASON AT ALL.
The motive for Cassandra’s murder takes us back a few years to when she was a “genius” who partnered with creative leech, Miles Bron, who then stole her ideas and locked her out of her own company a la Walter White and Grey Matter. When she took him to court, Bron had his friends (his “disruptors”) vouch for him and destroy Cassandra. When Cassandra revealed to Bron that she had receipts proving he stole her ideas (why she didn’t present that proof in court we’re not told), he poisoned her, put her body in a car in a garage, and staged her “suicide.”
That’s really all this boils down to: He stole my idea. I’m the genius. In this case, my twin sister is the genius. Blanc even says at one point: “Miles Bron is an idiot.” Blanc and Helen Brand desperately want to convince the other characters (and the audience) that Miles Bron is an idiot. When Miles destroys Helen’s proof (in the form of a cocktail napkin), Helen goes on a childish tirade destroying all of Bron’s crystal. Why? She then destroys the Mona Lisa and successfully pins the blame on him.
Oh, wait! I left something out! See, if we had such a thing as editing, I would move this plot point to the center of my review after my remarks about Bron being a “magpie.” I might as well put it here. Bron claims to have created a source of renewable energy he calls, “Klear … with a ‘k’.” Unfortunately, the energy is highly volatile and unstable and nobody wants to go forward with the research, yet Miles powers his island with “Klear … with a ‘k’.” Helen uses this fact to destroy said island. How she is not led away in handcuffs with Bron is anybody’s guess.
Because Rian Johnson has very little faith in his macguffin, I refuse to give it anything more than a perfunctory nod in my incredible, brilliant, “genius” movie review. Wait a minute! This isn’t how you write a movie review! See how brilliant and different I am? I’m glad I came back out of the rain to watch Dances with Knives and Onions, because now I’ll never have to watch it again! Thank you, Rian Johnson. For making us laugh at love … again.
*I had to point out that although Netflix paid Rian Johnson $100 million for future Knives Out mysteries, the original movie, upon which these characters and situations are based, is not available on Netflix in the U.S.
**I believe this little speech is Rian Johnson’s justification for The Last Jedi.
***With thanks to Squidbillies.
Note: My alert friend, John Froelich, reminded me of the fact that Miles Bron orchestrated his “murder mystery weekend” with the help of celebrated author, Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Sharp Objects) giving the viewer the indication that a “twist” could possibly occur at the mid-point of the movie. Though, there was a “twist” in both movies, Glass Onion’s twist is nowhere near as satisfying (even though I don’t much care for Gone Girl) nor does it make sense; Gone Girl doesn’t rely on twins, idiots, or weird “rich people shit.”