Crime Seen | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City Weekly

Crime Seen 

Glass Onion continues a mystery series suffused with righteous anger over obvious wrongs.

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Without revealing too much about the latest case, it seems clear that writer/director Rian Johnson's Benoit Blanc mysteries—2019's Knives Out, and the new Glass Onion—have a particular thematic bent. Blanc (Daniel Craig) may be the world's greatest detective, but he doesn't apply that skill indiscriminately. He investigates in worlds of power and privilege, and there's more than a touch of righteous anger in his ability to see through the lies and manipulations endemic to those worlds. As entertaining as these adventures are—and they are very entertaining indeed—they're entertainments tinged with acid.

Glass Onion drops a hint about where it's headed early on, as Johnson sets the events specifically in May 2020, with Blanc joining a group of guests on a getaway to a private Greek island owned by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Bron's friends—including fading ex-model Birdie (Kate Hudson), social-media influencer Duke (Dave Bautista), Connecticut governor Claire (Kathryn Hahn) and Bron's lead researcher Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.)—are surprised to get a dose of an unidentified throat spray before they board the yacht taking them to their destination. Johnson never underlines the notion that this rich guy, just a couple of months into the pandemic, already has some sort of anti-COVID treatment/vaccine that nobody else knows about, and that he's fine with keeping it to himself for his own purposes.

The plot, as they say, thickens once the island party starts. Bron plans to turn the weekend into a murder mystery with himself as the victim, but all those attending might have real-life motivations for wanting him dead. That's particularly true of Andi (Janelle Monáe), Bron's ex-business partner who recently lost a court case denying her any part in the company she co-founded. Not surprisingly, an actual dead body turns up—but whose, and for what reason, is best discovered through watching.

It shouldn't be surprising to anyone who watched Knives Out that Johnson seems to have a blast building his puzzle-box plots, which manifests initially as literal puzzle boxes that the characters need to solve before getting their invitations. Every word and every bit of business holds the potential to be a Chekhovian gun destined to fire at some point, and Glass Onion deftly sets the stage before circling back in time to add more context. And somehow, Johnson manages to do it all while dropping some great jokes and bits of physical humor.

If there's anywhere that Glass Onion feels a bit less effective than Knives Out, it's in the crafting of the supporting characters. Partly thanks to the wonderful casting, Knives Out felt stacked with fully-realized suspects, not merely broad types. Glass Onion's performers are certainly no slouches, but there's also less detail in their characters' connections both to Bron and to one another; Odom in particular feels desperately in need of something to flesh out Lionel's personality. It's a bit odd that a random houseguest of Bron's who wanders through the background seems to be more worth following around than some of the principals.

As for Benoit Blanc, he's still a bit of an enigma, as the great fictional detective characters tend to be with their preternatural deductive abilities. But what Johnson and Craig do give the character is not just a wild confidence in his own abilities, but that aforementioned fury when confronted with those who are acting on base motivations like greed. In some ways it feels like a fortuitous coincidence that Norton's Bron begins to bear more than a slight resemblance to a certain super-wealthy tycoon currently dominating social-media headlines, but it's also a case of the odds being in Johnson's favor. If you're making a story that is in part about people whose position leads them to believe they're much smarter than they are, the real world is going to offer you plenty of counterparts.

The title of Glass Onion is also pretty overtly connected to some of the same ideas, suggesting something that might appear to be layered and complex but actually isn't hard to see to the heart of. Maybe that could be used as a backhanded swipe at a mystery if you wanted to criticize its lack of imagination. Or maybe it's a way that a filmmaker can use satisfying genre fare to show us how many corrupt actions we should be raging against, since they're generally hiding in plain sight.

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