Daniel Craig is at his most interesting when he doesn’t have a license to kill. He was a perfect James Bond – steely blue eyes, square jaw, dry wit with a physicality that had been missing from the role since Sean Connery. He could’ve spent the rest of his days playing tough guy cops and criminals. Liam Neeson has proven that can be done into his 70s.
Instead, Craig’s filmography makes the case that he’s one helluva character actor trapped inside the chiseled good looks of a leading man. His redneck demolitions expert Joe Bang is the best thing about Steven Soderbergh’s NASCAR heist film Logan Lucky, and that movie is brimming with on-screen talent. Then in 2019, Craig starred in Knives Out as Benoit Blanc, the Mississippi supersleuth created by writer-director Rian Johnson, and something magical happened: the film grossed almost $ 313 million worldwide (on a reported budget of $ 40 million) and Netflix signed Johnson to a streaming deal for two Benoit sequels.
The first of the two Netflix films, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, hits select theaters in a few days before landing on Netflix on December 23rd. Have no fear that this film in any way fails to measure up to the original. This is The Empire Strikes Back of Agatha Christie-inspired whodunits. (Bet no one has ever written that sentence before.)
As the film opens, Blanc receives an invitation to a murder mystery weekend on an island owned by reclusive billionaire Miles Bron (played by Ed Norton), a thinly-disguised facsimile of Elon Musk. A couple times a year Bron flies his best friends from his pre-billionaire days to an exotic locale for a weekend of fun in the sun. This year he has concocted an elaborate murder mystery that will unfold on the grounds of his multi-million-dollar island estate known as the Glass Onion. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that pretend murder results in a real homicide that requires the skills of Benoit Blanc if it’s ever going to be solved. (You didn’t think the World’s Greatest Detective was going to spend the whole movie playing a parlor game, did you?)
As you should expect from a sequel to Knives Out, there are more plot twists than you can count. If you’re inclined to say ‘that would never happen’ following a plot development in a movie, then you’ve wandered into the wrong theater and arguably into the wrong genre altogether. The wild zigs and zags of the story are the point in this type of film, and Rian Johnson’s screenplay is super smart. He knows that you know what he’s thinking and sends the story in a different direction to keep everyone guessing for as long as possible.
The film is jam-packed with great performances. Daniel Craig has never taken issue with poking fun at his serious leading man persona, and his sense of humor is essential to his portrayal of the fastidious (fussy?) Benoit Blanc. His master detective deserves to stand the test of time and take his place next to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot in the canon of supersleuths. Janelle Monae is more than up to the challenge of going toe-to-toe (as a screen presence) with Daniel Craig. To compliment the specifics of her performance further would tread too far into spoiler territory. You’ll know what I’m referring to when you see the film.
The 2022 trend seems to be long movies. Comedies are routinely over two hours, and most of the crop of fall awards films (Tar, The Fablemans, Bardo, Decision to Leave, Triangle of Sadness) are all right at, or over, two-and-a-half hours long. Unlike some of those Oscar-seeking titles, Glass Onion never feels like it overstays its welcome, even at 140 minutes. Every time a “sameness” threatens to creep into the proceedings, Johnson astutely sends the narrative in new, interesting directions. His clever use of flashbacks and even a flashback within a flashback (the cinematic equivalent of a triple axel in figure skating) continually puts new meat on the bones of his story.
A portion of Glass Onion was filmed in Greece, and the cinematography takes full advantage of the gorgeous scenery. It’s ironic that a film with such sumptuous visuals was commissioned by a streaming service that allows you to watch the film on your phone. (If you do that, please don’t tell me. My heart can’t take the disappointment.) If you’re fortunate enough to live near one of the theaters playing Glass Onion over the Thanksgiving Weekend, do yourself a favor and see this film writ large on the biggest screen you can find.