/ 13 February 2023

One Show Two Takes: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

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Great sport: ‘Glass Onion’ is a murder mystery set in a mansion on a private island.

Another glossy, highly saturated Netflix film, another “eat the rich” narrative. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is the latest film in the mainstream anti-capitalist genre. In it, Rian Johnson, director of the 2019 whodunit Knives Out, trades a deceased author’s house for a Mamma Mia-like Mediterranean island with an uber-shiny mansion.

Glass Onion has a twisty labyrinth of a plot. Like onions and ogres, the film has many layers to get through — with the help of detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).

A band of “disrupters” from tech, entertainment and politics and social media personalities, along with Blanc, descend on a private Greek island owned by tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), who has invited them to a holiday mystery. 

The delightfully hideous mansion sports a floating, rotating platform for a sports car and a dome — the glass onion. What’s more, this island and its glass onion are a real listing for $450 million. It’s perfect for anyone who has just watched the film, has a fat bank account, worships at the altar of Elon Musk and values status above anything else. It is simply the gaucheness of new money.

The film perfectly shows toxic personality traits, such as hubris, vanity and an ego in constant need of a good stroking, as every disrupter, aside from the detective, flourishes in their respective fields — as long as others feed their self-importance. 

Glass Onion flips the murder mystery formula on its head as the killing takes place well into the movie, instead of at the beginning, keeping the tension simmering. The movie happily takes its time for anything eventful to happen while audiences and Blanc get to see the collective conceit of the  disrupters in real time. Blanc’s presence, along with another guest Andi Brand (Janelle Monáe), is unexpected. Brand is Bron’s former business partner.

As Blanc spends time on the island, he learns everyone has a history with  Bron, and is convinced many of them want him dead. The characters are satirical takes on personalities we’ve all encountered but they are too caricatured. Even Birdie (Kate Hudson) appears too stupid to be a solid bimbo pop star.  

For some Glass Onion viewers, it might be hard to look past the vapid egos of the characters to consider a well thought out mystery film. For others, it could present an extravagant Mediterranean getaway that masks a storyline that isn’t really exotic at all. The film reminds us that for many of the uber-rich a career based on shallowness originates from a series of moral compromises and envy.

Red herrings, intriguing glances and elaborately cryptic puzzles make for a strong mystery. But if it wasn’t for all the hype (and big Netflix marketing budget), Glass Onion probably wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience. It’s nothing new but features contemporary sub-plots and backstories. — Kimberley Schoeman 

The first Knives Out film hit the circuit  in September 2019, causing a stir among lovers of comedy and thriller movies. It bagged numerous awards nominations, including Golden Globes for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Motion Picture.

What was striking about the film was its ability to explore how wealth, murder and family come into play in a mysterious and thrilling fashion, with humour in between. 

Glass Onion investigates the sketchy circumstances around a rich man’s murder — which is yet to take place. Directed by Rian Johnson, with Daniel Craig as detective Benoit Blanc, the script is witty, with a compelling plot and intriguing characters. 

For someone who prefers romcoms and science-fiction movies, the mysterious and engaging storyline of the first film was so damn near perfect that I had my doubts about whether the sequel would live up to the standard set by its predecessor. But I was pleasantly surprised. Johnson creates suspense right from the start of Glass Onion, with a peculiar group of people there to solve a murder that hasn’t happened yet. 

Which is where detective Blanc comes in to do what he does best — find a suspect and solve the mystery as the movie explores themes such as how wealth lends itself to greed, manipulation and abuse of power; morality and privilege. 

I found the storyline gripping and suspenseful. The plot unpacks the lengths some of the characters — The Disrupters — are willing to go to protect their wealth and social status, betraying those they love and themselves in the process. 

Award-winning actress Kate Hudson plays Birdie Jay — a superficial model turned fashion entrepreneur. Birdie is a calculating narcissist with some of the best lines in the film. Hudson delivers the kind of sharp banter we’ve seen from her in previous films such as 2009’s Bride Wars. At times I was caught between being annoyed with her and then again feeling a tad compassionate about how easily controlled and manipulated Birdie can be in her desperation for attention. 

But the star of the show was Helen Brand, played by award-winning musician Janelle Monae, who carries the role with great strength and boldness. 

The Disrupters are invited to the island by self-absorbed billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) — except for the detective and Brand. A former business partner of Bron’s, Brand mysteriously arrives at the gathering, making for an awkward couple of days as things ended badly between them. 

Monae is elegant and poised as Brand, who is forced to be tactful, deceptive and courageous as she works alongside the detective to solve the mystery. 

At times, the film became a bit predictable, especially towards the end, but overall Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery was an enjoyable watch. — Bongeka Gumede