Writer/Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Janelle Monae, Edward Norton
Minorities scarcely survive being stabbed by sharp knives in murder mysteries. Dating back toward the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, murder mysteries have always placed minorities at a disadvantage. Ever since Agatha Christie put pen to paper becoming one of the greatest authors in literature, the whodunit genre has built barriers against people of color. Whodunits are identifiable by recognizable characteristics: star-studded ensembles, twists/turns and nerve-wracking suspense. Despite the genre’s undeniable popularity, however, recently its racism has come under magnifying glass scrutiny. Critics have thrown a fit at the whodunit genre for turning African-Americans into culprits of crimes they didn’t commit. By focusing on superficial issues of race rather than the murder case, filmmakers have forgotten what made these movies successful in the first place. As enjoyable as a board game of Clue, the greatest strength of these movies has always been their entertainment-value. Before facing declines, whodunits used to dominate news headlines. During the 1950’s, audiences used to flock towards theaters to experience masterpieces manufactured by Alfred Hitchcock. Whereas Hitchcock successfully engaged audiences through rear window images, modern-day mysteries are undermined by racist messages. Today, interest has dissipated from a genre gone astray. Like Orient Express trains running out of steam, murder mysteries have lost their gleam. Could a genre stabbed by sharp knives survive?
In a genre that has deteriorated over time, Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” demonstrates mysteries shine when minorities solve a crime. An old-fashioned, gripping and suspenseful whodunit, it uses sharp knives to carve place for minorities that investigate a murder case. Johnson breathes life into the genre with suspense as razor-sharp as a knife. Boasting impressive set-design, engrossing storytelling and strong performances, it’s a strong sequel. Although “Glass Onion” is unforgettable, it isn’t flawless. It’s poorly paced, building predictable conclusions. Nevertheless, it offers taut entertainment for mystery fans.
Following “Knives Out”, “Glass Onion” chronicles a private detective tasked to investigate a crime-ridden estate. Daniel Craig embodies Benoit Blanc, a workaholic detective whose health begins to deteriorate without cases to investigate. Benoit’s dreams come true when out of the blue he’s invited to a game in a mansion by a tech guru (Edward Norton). However, the vacation becomes a nightmare when guests disappear. As Benoit conducts investigations, each guests’ motivations are called into question.
Writer/Director Rian Johnson has always investigated the lives of detectives rescuing minorities’ lives from knives. His award-winning debut “Brick” documented a teenager investigating his girlfriend’s murder by drug dealers. With “Glass Onion”, however, Johnson crafts a sequel. Through spellbinding cinematography, Johnson recreates a criminal investigation. Evoking Jonathan Lynn’s “Clue”, the director effectively uses a luxurious mansion as background for Clue-less crime investigations. Whereas cramped locales enhanced 1950’s Hitchcock classics highlighting heroes peering through rear windows (ex. Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”), modern audiences avoid contained settings. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Assisted by DP Steve Yedlin, Johnson uses confined locations to evoke tension. Johnson modernizes the genre, crafting a mystery that demands theatrical viewing.
If modern mysteries don’t attract your attention, however, there’s several reasons to see “Glass Onion”. One area where the film significantly improves upon its predecessor is production-design. If “Knives Out” was wounded by knives of criticism for holding immigrants ransom, the sequel avoids problems.
Assisted by production-designer Rich Heinrichs, Johnson uses glass to symbolize African-Americans’ discrimination. For instance, symbolism is expertly used during the glass breaking scene. During this unforgettable scene, Helen combats racism by breaking glass in the mansion. One acknowledges the glass’ symbolism representing struggles experienced by immigrants against upper-class systems in styles recalling Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite”. Like the scholar’s stone symbolizing wealth for the Kim family, glass represents barriers experienced by minorities. Furthermore, Nathan Johnson’s score’s praiseworthy. Evoking David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, it builds nerve-wracking tension. Through awe-inspiring production-design, Johnson celebrates minorities.
Another exceptional aspect of “Glass Onion” is the screenplay. Johnson’s screenwriting strength is evoking compassion for a marginalized population through unreliable narration. If the whodunit genre has downsides, it rarely sets prejudices aside when investigating homicides. Case-in-point: Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” wrongfully incriminated black passengers boarding Orient Express trains of murder. Fortunately, however, “Glass Onion” avoids stereotypes. Evoking David Fincher’s “Gone Girl”, Johnson expertly uses unreliable narration to evoke empathy for crime suspects. Like Amy’s narration making viewers question whether she is telling the truth, Helen’s narration calls her innocence into question. Johnson creates a formidable black female character. Unreliable narrators are suited for thrillers about fathers with tempers seeking vengeance against serial killers for abducted daughters (ex. Denis Villeneuve’s “Prisoners”). As Shane Black’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” proved, unreliable narration isn’t effective when employed for comedic objectives to mock detectives. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Through a multidimensional screenplay, Johnson commemorates African-Americans.
One appreciates astonishing performances.
Daniel Craig delivers a career-defining performance as Benoit Blanc. As “Knives Out” proved, Craig is effective at portraying detectives solving crimes from comedic perspectives. With the sequel, however, Craig brings gravitas to the character. Imitating Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s “Sherlock”, Craig embodies a high-functioning detective solving crimes from an objective rather than emotional perspective. With mesmerizing expressions, he conveys angst, obsession and suspicions of a sleuth seeking to resolve homicides. It’s a magnificent performance from one of Britain’s most Bond-able movie-stars.
The supporting cast is superb and shares sharp chemistry. Janelle Monae is marvelous, imbues grace toward a wrongfully incriminated African-American woman determined to prove her innocence in a murder case. Edward Norton is excellent, bringing an air of superiority to a billionaire that boasts of his career. Lastly, Dave Bautista merits acknowledgements. As a media icon, he’s hilarious.
Despite exceptional performances, however, “Glass Onion” doesn’t keep viewers absorbed in mystery guessing killers’ top-secret identities with knives as sharp as its superior predecessor. Unlike “Knives Out” which raised stakes immediately by beginning with murder, the sequel takes time to develop through exposition. Consequently, sequences that establish characters aren’t as engrossing as crime investigations. As Curtis Hanson’s “L.A. Confidential” proved, exposition is appropriate for Los Angeles police procedurals rather than whodunits. Furthermore, the movie suffers from a predictable conclusion. Viewers are easily able to decipher the perpetrator’s obvious identity. Whereas this conclusion elevated John Guillermin’s “Death on the Nile”, it clashes with the genre’s sense of surprise. As Robert Altman’s “Gosford Park” proved, killers’ identities are shrouded in secrecy in the greatest mansion mysteries. Mysteries thrive based upon memorable endings, and thus “Glass Onion” falls short of expectations.
Nevertheless, fans of mysteries will certainly enjoy “Glass Onion” and so will moviegoers seeking engaging entertainment. A marvelous mystery, it proves that minorities deserve a place in a genre without a trace of diversity where destinies depend on race. If Cinema is an art-form with power to bring about change allowing filmmakers acknowledgement to speak out on issues they have opinions about, one hopes it gives foreigners that face institutionalizations fair-and-square opportunity to not be turned out of countries by worn-out leaders brandishing blood-spattered knives out.
As a dream come true, hopefully its success will open up avenues giving filmmakers clues as to how to go about making movies that generate revenues in a genre that has always thrived based on entertainment-value keeping viewers guessing the culprit of murder rather than tackling political issues.
In a genre destined an uncertain future resembling Orient Express trains headed for disaster, it’s a razor-sharp reminder to build bridges rather than barriers against people of color even if they are absent from stories told by one of English literature’s greatest authors.
Like smug upper-class families that mistreat housemaids as thugs that don’t deserve hugs, it’s about time that Hollywood gave immigrants “My House My Rules” coffee mugs by telling stories of communities that are always swept under the rug.
As prestigious as the Glass Onion estate that detectives investigate, it’s a reassuring reminder that murder mysteries haven’t lost their capabilities to captivate when individuals from diverse ethnicities come together to celebrate commonalities without making minorities helpless targets of hate.