Creating a successful mystery film–not a thriller, crime drama, or something vaguely defined as “suspense,” but a real whodunit–has never been an easy task for the big screen. For one thing, the only payoff comes at the end, when the murderer is caught and all the clues join together to form the full puzzle. The focus is on deep thought and quiet deduction rather than action–which, in this age of short-attention-span theater, isn’t really cinematic. Traditional mysteries do best on television, in a series of short-length episodes (thanks, PBS Masterpiece Mystery!). That said, there are some signs Hollywood might be entering a new Golden Age of mystery films.
Yes, Kenneth Branagh adapted two classic Agatha Christie novels (Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile this year) and is working on the third film A Haunting in Venice. Instead, it was director Rian Johnson who truly reinvented the mystery genre with Knives Out (2019), starring Daniel Craig as the suave and bombastic Southern detective Benoit Blanc. Branagh’s attempts to modernize the genre focused on grand but obviously CGI effects and “humanizing” Hercule Poirot, Christie’s legendary Belgian detective, with distracting backstories and romantic subplots. The result was self-indulgent and manipulative. Even worse, it failed to understand the attraction of a great detective story is watching the spectacle of an unusually brilliant mind unraveling a seemingly unsolvable crime. Knives Out, even with its contemporary setting and a focus on the very 21st-century issues of privilege, race, and inherited wealth, retains the bones of a classic murder mystery. And though it may sound like heresy to mystery purists, but Craig’s larger-than-life yet still approachable Blanc mops the floor with this latest, somewhat ridiculous iteration of Poirot.
Knives Out was a smash at the multiplex, so it’s no wonder Netflix spent an ungodly sum on the sequel, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which is finally available to stream on Netflix after a one-week theatrical run in November. The setting is now a private Greek island rather than Massachusetts and Blanc is the only character to return from the first film, but the short teaser trailer indicates the same gleeful skewering of contemporary issues (men’s rights, social media shaming, pandemic survival) and a similar reinvention of the quintessential puzzle mystery. This time, tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites his closest frenemies to his Greek island in order to escape COVID regulations A good time is had by all–that’s what the rich and entitled do best, after all–until Bron’s murder mystery game results in a real corpse Once again, Blanc faces a group of privileged suspects trying and failing to keep their secrets hidden from his piercing gaze. Here’s a guide to who’s-who in Rian Johnson’s latest whodunit.
Edward Norton as Miles Bron
Three-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton has been on most critics’ Best Actors of All Time list since he played a suspected priest-killer in Primal Fear. Since then, Norton has starred not only in critically acclaimed dramas such as American History X, 25th Hour, and Motherless Brooklyn, but also in Wes Anderson comedies such as Grand Budapest Hotel and The French Dispatch and in ensemble action movies like The Italian Job, The Score and Fight Club. Coming up next for Norton is a role in Apple’s upcoming anthology series Extrapolations, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, and he’ll reprise his role as Sammy the Bagel in the Sausage Party sequel series Sausage Party: Foodtopia.
The character of the hyper-privileged, self-centered, and label-fixated Bron, a tech billionaire who enjoys toying with his guests, was reportedly inspired by Elon Musk. With Edward Norton in the role, expect some amusing scenery-chewing and wickedly funny inside jokes.
Janelle Monae as Cassandra “Andi” Brand
Musician and rapper Janelle Monae is known for her unique sound–part psychedelic pop and part progressive soul, mixed with heavy doses of jazz, funk, and disco. But Monae’s flawless performance as Mary Jackson, the first African-American woman to become an engineer at NASA in Hidden Figures made audiences realize that this was no ordinary singer-turned-actress. Follow-up roles in Harriet and Antebellum further showcased the multi-hyphenate Monae’s star quality.
Here, she plays Cassandra Bland, Bron’s former partner who skulks around the island with a silent grudge, saying very little but bringing uneasiness and menace to every scene. Keep an eye on Cassandra for surprise twists–which isn’t hard, as the camera love’s Monae’s exciting presence.
Kathryn Hahn as Claire Debella
Her name might not seem familiar in this cast of well-known celebrities, but Yale-educated actress Kathryn Hahn has been acting steadily in theater, television, and film for over 20 years. In addition to three years on the hit series Parks and Recreation and her recent appearance in WandaVision, Hahn voices Paige Hunter in the musical animated series Central Park and Drac’s new love interest Ericka in the Hotel Transylvania movies. Next up for Hahn is the Hulu series Tiny Beautiful Things and the MCU limited series Agatha: Coven of Chaos, where she’ll be reprising her role as Agatha Harkness.
Given her comedic chops, look for Hahn to bring some sly wit and broad comic relief in the character of Claire Debella, the soccer-mom turned ambitious governor-to-be.
Leslie Odom Jr as Lionel Toussaint
Queens native Leslie Odom Jr. became a bona fide Broadway megastar with his Tony Award-winning role as Aaron Burr in Lin Miranda Manuel‘s smash rap musical Hamilton. Afterward, Odom Jr. not only starred in the movie version of the Broadway play, but also appeared in prestige films such as Harriet, Murder on the Orient Express, and The Many Saints of Newark. Odom Jr also received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Sam Cooke in the film One Night in Miami. Also, a critically acclaimed recording artist who has released numerous albums, Odom Jr. performed a solo jazz concert at Lincoln Center in 2017. Next year Odom Jr will lead David Gordon Green and Blumhouse’s The Exorcist sequel where he’ll star alongside franchise veteran Ellen Burstyn and fellow Exorcist newcomer Ann Dowd.
In Glass Onion, he plays Lionel Toussaint, the scientist, and engineer employed by Bron to make the billionaire’s dreams of space travel come true.
Kate Hudson as Birdie Jay
Initially known for being the daughter of Hollywood icons Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Kate Hudson rose to instant stardom as a soulful groupie and muse Penny Lane in Cameron Crowe‘s semi-autobiographical Almost Famous. Now a veteran of romantic comedies such as The Divorce, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Bride Wars, Kate Hudson also sang and danced with Daniel Day-Lewis as a hip fashion journalist in the musical Nine.
Here, she’s Birdie Jay, a superficial fashion designer prone to making disastrous online blunders. As an actress born into fame and well-versed in the pitfalls of celebrity and social media, Hudson is a perfect choice to play an influencer who doesn’t understand real life if she can’t post it on Instagram.
Dave Bautista as Duke Cody
Former WWE Superstar and MMA champion Dave Bautista usually played hitmen, bodyguards, and thugs before charming audiences as interstellar criminal Drax the Destroyer in the sci-fi action comedy Guardians of the Galaxy. In addition to portraying Drax in other movies set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bautista has appeared other action films like Blade Runner 2049, Dune Part One, and Army of the Dead. Bautista has a massive year ahead of him in 2023 with two highly anticipated blockbuster sequels in Dune Part Two and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. He also will star in M. Night Shyamalan‘s new film Knock at the Cabin.
Here, he plays Duke Cody, a YouTube and Twitch streaming sensation known for his advocacy of men’s rights and the NRA. For those not sure that the action star can handle comedy, Bautista’s hilarious appearance in the teaser trailer (wearing a microscopic Speedo– fitted with a gun holster, of course) suggests he can hold his own just fine.
Jessica Henwick as Peg
After appearances on numerous cerebral British television shows, English actress Jessica Yu Li Henwick seemed to be headed for a career in action movies. After she auditioned for the role of Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), J.J. Abrams wrote the role of X-wing pilot Jess Pava specifically for her. From 2015-2017, she played the deadly Nymeria Sand in Game of Thrones. Then there’s her recurring MCU Universe role of samurai/martial arts expert Colleen Wing who appeared in the TV series The Defenders, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. And, as recently as 2021, Henwick appeared in The Matrix: Resurrections as Bugs, the captain of a rebel ship that frees Neo from the Matrix. Next year Henwick will star in the indie horror movie Cuckoo and the Kitty Green-directed thriller The Royal Hotel.
But in Glass Onion, Henwick takes on the less physical role of Peg, Byrdie’s protective assistant who’s constantly supervising her boss (and her employer’s phone) to prevent any future scandals. But it’s not quite clear that she succeeds…
Madelyn Cline as Whiskey
Madelyn Cline got her start doing print and TV commercials before recurring roles on the vampire television series The Originals and the smash Netflix series Stranger Things. This led to lead roles in teen thrillers like The Giant and What Breaks The Ice, and in Boy Erased, a critically-lauded drama about forced conversion therapy. She broke big with her role as Sarah Cameron in the Netflix hit series Outer Banks, a third season is due to hit Netflix next year.
As Whiskey, Duke’s girlfriend and a wannabe influencer, Cline is a relatively fresh face on the silver screen, But just as the role of Marta in Knives Out transformed Ana de Armas into an A-List actress, this might be the turning point in Cline’s career as well.
Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc
Once upon a time, Daniel Craig was known mostly as Angelina Jolie‘s love interest in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or the poet Ted Hughes in the biopic Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow. But for most of the planet, even though he’s given up the role, Craig is still the modern face of Agent 007.
In Glass Onion, he once again plays Benoit Blanc, the drawling Southern-fried detective with exquisite manners and a theatrical way with words. Bored with his current investigations, Blanc jumps at the chance to solve the murder mystery on Bron’s island. Craig has shown similar eagerness to continue playing Blanc and working with Rian Johnson, so he’s already signed on for a third Knives Out film, not yet in production.
Jackie Hoffman as Mrs. Cody
Acclaimed Broadway actress Jackie Hoffman plays Mrs. Cody, the mother of Duke, in a brief but memorable role. Hoffman has been dominating the stage for decades, but she also has an impressive resume in film and television. She memorably played the role of Uma Heller in the hit Hulu series Only Murders in the Building. She also received an Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her role as Mamacita in the first season of Ryan Murphy‘s Feud. In the world of film, she has made appearances in Garden State, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde, and Shiva Baby. Next year Hoffman will play Asst. Principal McGee in the Paramount+ series Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies, and will also have a supporting role in Zach Braff‘s dramedy A Good Person.
Noah Segan as Derol
Daniel Craig actually isn’t the only cast member from the first Knives Out who returns for Glass Onion. Noah Segan, who played Trooper Wagner in the first film, returns to the world of Knives Out, but this time as a different character, and that’s Derol. Derol is a stoner and a slacker who lives on Miles’ island since he’s going through a rough patch. Segan has the distinction of being cast in every single one of Johnson’s movies. Alongside his Knives Out and Glass Onion roles he also played in Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, The Brothers Bloom, and Brick.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery also features a host of surprise cameos. But at the film’s world premiere at the 47th Toronto International Film Festival, director Rian Johnson begged viewers not to release any spoilers. So the identity of those cameos will remain under wraps.