“It’s a dangerous thing to mistake speaking without thought for speaking the truth.”
Knives Out was a delightful surprise that absolutely did not require a sequel, so I approached Netflix’s acquistion of the rights to multiple further movies with some trepidation. The prepostrously accented detective Benoit Blanc is the only returning character, Daniel Craig clearly continuing to enjoy himself in a less physically demanding role. No time is wasted in establishing the conceit, a group of influencers and disruptors receiving elaborate invitations from a tech billionaire to an island party, providing ample fodder for further satire of the wealthy and feckless. If Knives Out was Rian Johnson remixing the traditional elements of a whodunit, with Glass Onion he instead subverts the structure entirely, resolving one mystery midway through the proceedings and then rewinding so that we see events unfold with more information and an entirely new perspective. Johnson once again assembles an excellent ensemble cast, though Janelle Monáe is the standout. Events may unfold on a sun-drenched island rather than in an ominous mansion, but returning cinematographer Steve Yedlin provides visual continuity along with the similarly meticulous mise-en-scène, some of which is sadly lost on the small screen (Glass Onion recieved only a one week limited theatrical release in order to qualify for awards). Establishing the form’s return, this is the third high profile whodunit of 2022, following Death on the Nile and See How They Run — of the three Glass Onion is by far the most ambitious and the most successful.
“People are desperate to tell you who they are. Desperate to be seen.”
Where Guillermo del Toro’s previous film, The Shape of Water, featured a mute protagonist, the manipulative Stanton Carlisle is quite the talker. However his larconic introduction, sporting an Indiana Jones silhouette and barely speaking for the opening 20 minutes, allows us to breathe in the 1930s carnival world that lends itself to del Toro’s visual mastery, at once fascinating and unpleasant. When the plot demands that Carlisle’s mentalism act graduates from carnival to cabaret, Nightmare Alley remains sumptuous but can feel hollow. The cast is excellent, with a smattering of star power and a smorgasbord of supporting character actors. Bradley Cooper is on strong form as the noir anti-hero, charming yet greedy, perfectly offset by Cate Blanchett’s underestimated femme fatale — their scenes together are the best part of a deliberately slow burn story that meanders for slightly too long, punctuated with an abrupt jump that makes a well-signposted conclusion less satisfying. Whilst its storytelling can be faulted, Nightmare Alley is never less than vividly captivating.
Knives Out is Rian Johnson’s modern remix of the classic whodunnit. The traditional elements are present: a deceased patriarch, a squabbling family with secrets and a large mansion with plenty of space for intrigue. Whilst Johnson’s love for the genre is evident, he highlights some of its contrivances like the idiosyncratic civilian detective inexplicably given free rein to investigate. As in his debut, Brick, the language often jars with the modern setting, but his flair for dialogue makes it fit this specific world. Unusually our viewpoint is not that of the sleuth (Daniel Craig with a distracting Southern drawl) but rather the deceased’s nurse, Ana de Armas wonderfully portraying both vulnerability and determination. The ensemble cast is delightful, deriving humour largely from the absurd, although its sporadic placement results in a slightly uneven tone. The mystery itself is expertly plotted over the course of two hours which rapidly fly by, and some secrets remain until late in the proceedings without a sense of cheating. The result is far superior to the recent adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. The height of praise for this sort of film is that — even where I could anticipate certain elements — watching them unfold remained entertaining. With its eccentric characters, stylised dialogue and constrained setting, Knives Out feels theatrical rather than cinematic, but that should not diminish one’s enjoyment whatsoever.