Styled “Knives Out: Glass Onion,” but writer/director Rian Johnson prefers it to have the standalone title GLASS ONION. Quite rightly, too: the Poirot stories are not styled The Mysterious Affair At Styles: Murder On The Orient Express just because Styles was the first Poirot book. These are the Benoit Blanc stories, and GLASS ONION is a much more Poirot-like affair than KNIVES OUT, partly due to the set-up and partly due to Daniel Craig’s expanded portrayal of Blanc. Johnson and Craig add that note of infuriation: with himself, and with his suspects.
KNIVES OUT had tones of the Ustinov Poirot films – particularly the sense that most of the actors were having a great time – but the sheer exasperation with stupidity in ONION recalls the Suchet Poirots. And, this time, Daniel Craig seems to be having the most fun of all. With the stresses of Bond behind him, Craig has clearly entered his “fuck-it” years and visibly enjoys himself immensely in this neatly recursive and interconnected murder mystery.
Dave Bautista is putting together a really interesting CV, for an actor I’d originally considered limited. His bit in the BLADE RUNNER sequel turned me around – he’s on screen for five minutes, but what a careful, observed bit of work! The reserved breath! – and I’m looking forward to seeing what they give him in DUNE 2.
It is, of course, amusing to see the skewering of the Musk/Zuckerberg(/Brin?) analogue, and MuskZuck are definitely combined in Ed Norton’s Miles Bron, with the hydrogen fuel McGuffin as a combination of Musk’s businesses and Zuck betting the company on Meta. That was an elegant bit of synthesis.
And, equally obviously, the regal side-eye of Janelle Monae is a visual effect beyond price.
But the thing is worth studying for its nested structure. Layered like an onion, yes, sure, but also nested. An effect reminiscent of the way the third Bourne film is hidden within the ending of the second. In GLASS ONION, it completely supercharges the pace of the narrative.
The extension of “onion” as metaphor to the characters is entertaining, as layers get stripped away to reveal surprising interiors: some clever and unexpected character writing. This is the sort of film some people have been saying audiences have been crying out for in cinema, something fun that doesn’t insult the intelligence, and one hopes it would have made a killing at the auditoria. But it is the best new thing on Netflix right now. I can imagine it – and I imagine Johnson imagined it – as a great film to watch over Christmas, as we once did the Ustinov Poirot films. And that’s how I approached and viewed it. In that sense, maybe it’s a throwback? But it feels fresher in a great many ways. It invites us to play a game, while playing a different game with us, and it doesn’t punish us for guessing wrong. It’s a little gem. Not world-changing, just a bloody well-told story that doesn’t make me… infuriated.
(I’m going to note here that I enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s first Poirot film and found his portrayal entertaining.)
This is me trying to start the habit of actually writing notes on the films I watch this year.
As noted, GLASS ONION is on Netflix, but I’ll see if I can remember to add a DVD link here when that happens.