Peeling Back The Layers Of 'Glass Onion'

Christopher Fowler
Benoit Blanc, the New Orleans detective essayed by Daniel Craig in the surprise hit 'Knives Out', channels his inner Foghorn Leghorn and has a hoot in its sequel 'Glass Onion', which is yes, an old Beatles song and also, literally, a very big glass onion. If the template last time was 'The Old Dark House' via 'Cluedo', this one owes a fair amount to Stephen Sondheim and his meticulous whodunnit 'The Last of Sheila' (at one point reproducing a shot from that endlessly viewable film), although it makes little use of its own gorgeous location, and the cast is bit of a B-team compared to 'Sheila'. So - old frenemies board a yacht, there's an unexpected crime which is solved in a flash - someone explain that part to me - and then a murder, clues, flashbacks, great frocks, clever dialogue, coded jokes, reinterpretations of scenes, awesome set design, rewinds, 'Hellraiser'-type puzzle boxes, false endings, red herrings - all a bit exhausting really, but so much fun. Except that this is where my training as a Professional Murder Mystery Writer™ comes in. For me good film whodunnits take two viewings; the first to wallow in, the second to decode. And there's a LOT to sort out here. Do I see it twice before I believe the murder plot? No, it's absurd, but then the whole of John Dickson Carr's career was absurd. Does it deliver the necessary joys of the whodunnit? Possibly too much. This time the potential villains are the Elon Musks of the world, with exemplary cast stand-outs that include a wonderfully imperious Janelle Monáe, wowser Kate Hudson (why doesn't she make more films?), sort-of-always-invisible Ed Norton, and that over-muscled bloke with a head like a walnut who makes Vin Diesel look like Stephen Hawking from 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. The switchback plotting is so well set up that you'll kick yourself for being fooled again and again. With its not-so hidden Easter eggs and pervasive sense of anything-goes lunacy it makes perfect sense when Angela Lansbury should turn up on a Zoom call. Where 'Knives Out' played true to its roots by being set in a grand, gloomy house, the sequel is set free by its shiny chromium and glass design, even though you know all that crystal won't make it through to the end of the film intact. The frequency of jokes that land is higher, but the wit is broader. The critics are understandably delighted to discover a freshly minted brand (hate that word). However, all this care and attention may have made 'Glass Onion' almost too epic for a series that's clearly intending to have a long life. What it lacks is heart - but that may come.


SteveB (not verified) Mon, 07/11/2022 - 14:53

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Looking forward to this! (I have a feeling it's only on Netflix so far???) But then I enjoyed Luc Besson's Anna which was like multiple episodes of that old TV series Hustle all strung together (where the format is, it shows you a scenario and then at the end rolls back to show you what really happened)... I know what Admin means about films that are clever but lack heart by the way.

Jamie (not verified) Mon, 07/11/2022 - 15:47

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

As someone who loves whodunnit films, and has been eagerly awaiting the release of this sequel, would love to hear which ones rate highly for you. I recently saw The Last of Sheila and was amazed at the storytelling and gradual unveiling (I have never been so terrified of puppets).

Ian Mason (not verified) Mon, 07/11/2022 - 16:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That was well timed, not ten minutes ago I read that Walmart (in the US naturally) are selling working replicas of the Hellraiser puzzle box as educational toys. I should stress that I'm using 'working' in the sense of the puzzle element not "Your children will be empaled with fish hooks on chains and ripped apart" sense. At least one hopes that is the case. Either way it seems curiously tone-deaf to be selling children's toys with overtones of satanic sado-masochism. I wonder if you can get it in a bundle with an anthology of EC comics more nightmare-inducing issues?

Joan (not verified) Mon, 07/11/2022 - 23:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Loved Knives out Chris, can hardly wait. I think it will be released for a week at the theatre before Netflix streams it.

Helen+Martin (not verified) Mon, 07/11/2022 - 23:44

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Borrowed The Last of Sheila from the library twice and thoroughly enjoyed it. Haven't seen Knives Out yet, although I did make a try at enthusing my husband but no luck. Well, we'll see what happens with this one. Perhaps there'll be a copy I can borrow of Knives and then later of the Onion as well. Who knows? Sounds good anyway.

David (not verified) Tue, 08/11/2022 - 00:20

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'm looking forward to this now since you likened to Last of Sheila. Richard Benjamin for the rewrite!

Colin Quinton (not verified) Tue, 08/11/2022 - 06:48

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I watched the trailer yesterday and spotted the “Last of Sheila” shot but at the moment it means nothing without knowing the characters (if it means anything at all!)
“The Last of Sheila” is such a fabulous film - twisty plot, incredibly witty and sooo bitchy! On one hand it’s a shame that Perkins and Sondheim didn’t do another, but on the other a second might not have been so good - fingers crossed that Glass Onion is as good as the original.

snowy (not verified) Tue, 08/11/2022 - 22:22

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'll confess that I also watch whodunnits twice, once as entertainment, and then again to see how the bits all fit together. [People that don't do this shouldn't really get into conversations about films with people that do, because we will go on and on and on about it for hours and hours!]

I didn't enjoy 'Knives' as much as I hoped/other people seemed to, I found the plot a bit slight and the mystery lacking in.................. Mystery. But my chief quibble was to do with the writing, how can anybody amass that amount of acting talent in one place and then do absolutely nothing with them?

[I mean the script got the cast and a budget, but having got both nobody thought to do some tweaks?

All the best gags are in the trailer, inc. two visual nods to 'Sleuth' (1972).]

snowy (not verified) Tue, 08/11/2022 - 22:28

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


Jamie, would you mind if I, [and other readers], suggested our favourite whodunnits?


If you don't like puppets, don't watch 'Magic' (1978), [really just don't!, Trust me.....}.

Jamie (not verified) Wed, 09/11/2022 - 00:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

@ snowy

Oh, yes please! I feel very confident in recommendations from this group.

And Magic is now on my Never-to-be-watched list.

snowy (not verified) Wed, 09/11/2022 - 00:59

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Well I'm a bit spoilt for choice......

But, hmmm... I'll go for Clue (1985)

It's based on the board game Cluedo, a colourful group of people are invited to a mansion, one is murdered, the others must solve the crime before the police arrive. [It's written by one of the writers of 'Yes Minister' Jonathan Lynn and the director John Landis].

It's not scary, it's a high speed farce with lots of comic lines, set during the 1950s.

Over to the rest of you!

Paul C (not verified) Wed, 09/11/2022 - 09:35

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Avoiding the obvious choices like Green for Danger (1946) with the great Alastair Sim, I'd recommend Brick (2005) which is an unusual film noir in the Hammett / Chandler mode but set among university students. A cult favourite at the time but it seems to have slipped into undeserved obscurity. Brilliant dialogue and very stylish.

I also find Cutters Way with Jeff Bridges and John Heard endlessly rewatchable - a real gem based on an excellent novel.

BarbaraBoucke (not verified) Wed, 09/11/2022 - 13:51

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Family Plot
Lady of Burlesque

John Griffin (not verified) Wed, 09/11/2022 - 14:34

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I remember being distracted when watching Clue by the actress whose embonpoint was Carry On on steroids. How shallow of me.

Christopher Fowler Wed, 09/11/2022 - 17:02

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Sondheim co-wrote another stage play murder mystery called 'Getting Away With Murder'. It was a total misfire and doesn't read any better now.

Jamie (not verified) Wed, 09/11/2022 - 21:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Thank you all for the suggestions! I'm now more excited about my watchlist than I've been for some time.

Clue is a perennial favorite. It's so well done that it was only a matter of time before it was remade. Although I enjoyed Ryan Reynolds' comedic roles, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the casting holds up for the 2023 release.

Button (not verified) Thu, 10/11/2022 - 02:31

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Here are a couple of more contemporary movies you might enjoy. They are offbeat, but well done:

The Thirteenth Floor and
Max Payne - a NeoNoir from a video game or comic book.


snowy (not verified) Thu, 10/11/2022 - 14:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Some lovely suggestions.

Ok, Eileen Brennan who played 'Mrs Peacock' in 'Clue' had previously been in another whodunnit.

'Murder by Death' (1976) written by Neil Simon, Starring: Columbo, Insp. Jacques Clouseau, Obi Wan Kenobi, The Bride of Frankenstein, Phileas Fogg, The Dowager Countess of Grantham & Fay Wray. "Five famous literary detective characters and their sidekicks are invited to a bizarre mansion to solve an even stranger mystery".


I hadn't realised 'Clue' was up for a remake, they must be scraping the Hollywood ideas barrel down to forensic levels now.


[Button, if you haven't seen it, 'Shoot 'Em Up' (2007) is a noir with a very comic book feel despite not being based on one.

Not for John though, he might get 'all unnecessary' over Monica Bellucci; dribbling is never a 'good look', whatever your age!.]

Paul C (not verified) Thu, 10/11/2022 - 14:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Blimey.......I recommended the film Brick above and have just noticed that its writer / director is Rian Johnson who is also the writer / director of..........Glass Onion.