After the success of his 2019 whodunit “Knives Out,” writer/director Rian Johnson has now created another tricky mystery for his detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), and arguably, it’s better than the last. During the pandemic, the story begins with Senator Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), model sweatpants tycoon Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), influencer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.) all receiving a package.
From their billionaire friend Miles Braun (Edward Norton). It’s a puzzle box that involves playing games to open it — Duke’s mom (a wonderful Jackie Hoffman) gets a few laughs for her unwanted contribution — and inside is an invitation. Miles wants his friends, known as “disruptors,” to join him on a Greek island for a weekend murder mystery. Andy Brandt (Janell Monae), Miles’ former business partner who recently lost a lawsuit as Claire, Birdie, Duke, and Lionel all side with Miles in court, also receives the box.
Benoit Blanc also gets a box, because who wouldn’t want the world’s most famous detective for a murder mystery game where players must figure out the killer’s motive, meaning, and opportunity? Also, in one of the film’s many witty scenes, Blanc is depressed and won’t leave his bathtub because he’s so bored. In fact, he’s missing internet murder mystery games he plays online with Angela Lansbury, Stephen Sondheim, Natasha Lyonne, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
(Johnson sees him as an influence on Sondheim’s films “The Last of Sheila,” “Glass Onion,” and recognizes Leone’s passion for constructing and solving crossword puzzles, which she recommends Benoit try her hand at.) Other fun cameos include Yo-Yo Ma and Serena. Williams is present, but Ricky Jay, Jeremy Renner, and Jared Leto are all name-checked.
And yes, all of these fun facts are intentionally misleading so as to emphasize Johnson’s bonafide and not spoil the real fun and games. “Glass Onion” begins to unravel its central mystery once everyone reaches Bronze Island. There are drinks by the pool and dinner before the mystery game of Bronn’s (fake) death begins. This gives Benoit the motive, tools, and opportunity to learn more about the eclectic guests and their relationships and loyalties.
Viewers should also pay close attention, as conversations are overheard and mix-ups appear. And, as one person pointed out, the truth is like a glass onion – it looks complicated, but it’s clear. It is a crime to reveal who dies, but there is a “severe and violent” death with intent. And just as this happens, the lights go out, allowing Johnson, ever the game player, a stylish kind of hide and seek.
And as the bodies pile up — so does the shooting — and the plot thickens, “Glass Onion” folds in on itself, returning to certain events and retelling them from a different angle. This gimmick allows viewers to understand more about the suspects, er, and characters and tracks Benoit’s efforts to find out who murdered whom.
Johnson certainly enjoys creating vague distractions, but even if his image is as onion-skin deep, it’s also very engaging. “Glass Onion” pokes fun at its characters in a way that’s quite enjoyable. As the über-rich Miles Bronn, Edward Norton plays a charming wise guy who’s certainly clueless about himself. (There are all kinds of fun pieces in his art collection, which are featured in several scenes, especially one famous work at the center of it all.)
Kate Hudson’s Birdie Jay isn’t too bright, and her sweatpants are her exchange about a sweatshop. Most entertaining. Dave Bautista also does a fun turn as the gun-toting Duke – he’s also “packing” in his Speedo. Leslie Odom Jr.’s brilliant scientist and Kathryn Hahn’s liberal senator are more mysterious. It’s clear that some, if not all, of these people, are up to no good, but Bronn’s speech about these disruptors breaking down the system is brilliant.
But Janelle Monae’s Andy is an outlier. She “doesn’t belong” on the island because of the bad blood between her and Miles (and others) and she maintains an icy demeanor that is appropriately cold. But around the film’s midpoint, her backstory is revealed, and it’s a game-changer. If the viewer thinks about it too much, this carefully constructed puzzle can topple over like a Jenga tower, but Johnson deliberately and effortlessly carries the viewer along, so they don’t even think about it when Benoit gives a whole speech about the need for critical thinking. This is misleading