Not-a-review of Glass Onion

Not-a-review of Glass Onion
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I enjoyed Knives Out, but not as much as many people seemed to like it. Having grown up reading Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, I appreciated the return to classic mysteries, but Knives Out failed to achieve that level of greatness. The Kenneth Branagh adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express, though flawed, worked better as a mystery thanks to its pedigree.

Last night I started watching Glass Onion. I say I “started” because I fell asleep around the halfway mark. (Again, this is not-a-review.) It seems to me that after 1 ½ episodes of the Knives Out cinematic universe the formula is clear:

  • Cast of eccentric characters
  • Plenty of twists
  • Daniel Craig gets to use his accent from Logan Lucky

It straddles the line between an homage and a sendup of classic closed-room mystery. Whichever was the goal, Gosford Park did it better.

I enjoyed the character introductions that kick off Glass Onion. A lot of that is a credit to the cast. But the instant they arrived at the eccentric tech entrepreneur’s island I hit an overload of “eccentric”. I realized I connected with exactly none of these people.[1] I was longing for a straight man.

I think Craig’s Benoit Blanc is supposed to serve that function. He comments on the pile of luggage on the beach wondering who will take it up to the villa. But his introduction shows him spending days in the bath playing games with family (?) over Zoom while his live-in chef answers a knock at the door. Seems like fun for the actors, but it results in a character who just sorta blends in with the rest of the cast.

I took a class on detective fiction in college. Good detective stories allow the audience to participate in unraveling the mystery. There are enough clues spread through the story that you can go back and reconstruct the plot from the viewpoint of the murderer. Often the detective does exactly that in the final act.[2] It usually doesn’t hurt to throw in red herrings so that there are several possible solutions.[3] But the author must be careful not to lose the main thread of the mystery they are telling. Otherwise they risk their detective looking less clever and more the beneficiary of having read the script in advance.

Director Rian Johnson[4] is the king of near-miss movies in my book. I’m not sure why, of course. Maybe his sensibilities are not like mine. In any case, I’ll watch the rest of Glass Onion soon and maybe he managed to bring the mystery home in a satisfying way.

  1. I got far enough to see there is a twist that partially rectifies the problem. Perhaps I just need to push on through the rest of the film. ↩︎

  2. This makes movies an inferior form for these stories. You can’t stop watching to think back over the story the way you can stop reading. ↩︎

  3. The movie Clue literally did that. ↩︎

  4. He turns out to be almost exactly my age. I dunno if that’s relevant at all, but I found it interesting. ↩︎

I just finished it and the second half didn’t change my mind. Spoiler warning seem appropriate:

Ending of Glass Onion

Apparently Benoit Blanc solved the mystery by noting all the mistakes the billionaire host made while speaking and concluded he wasn’t as smart as he pretended to be. It’s such a weird revelation scene because it seemed well established that Miles Bron is a fraud. He fits into the general milieu of Elon Musk, Elizabeth Holmes and Sam Bankman-Fried. (Though, of course, only Holmes’ story was known when the script was being written.)

The flashback showed a scene when Helen Brand and Blanc stop on the beach for a short discussion. The first time I saw that scene, I though it was odd that Brand told Blanc he had a “flat tire”, which means his heal had slipped out of his shoe. But to fix it, he seems to tie his shoe. In the flashback, it’s obvious that this was just an excuse for Helen to have a private conversation. Why not say “your shoe’s untied” instead? Does Rian Johnson not know what flat tire is?

The details are off and I can’t tell if that’s intended.

I assumed that the flat tire definition was regional/cultural. I assumed the same as you that it is the way I define it, where your heal comes out of the show (often from being stepped on while marching in formation, but I could see a definition that would be an untied shoe.

I ended up really enjoying the movie. I found it really funny, and I enjoyed the twist that reframes everything. That said I’m not big into mystery books and movies, so I did not watch it with a critical eye in that sense.

The funniest line (about sweat shops) came in the second half. I might end up watching a second time to watch for foreshadowing. I know Rian Johnson focuses on details like that.

I laughed out loud when she said that he must be really good at clue, and he responded that he is not because he is not good at “dumb things”. But I also liked how that combined with him being demolished in Among Us early on, led to some of the funny parts of the reveal as well.

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