Glass Onion Briefly Puts Edward Norton In The Clothes Of Tom Cruise’s Most Unlikeable Character

This piece contains mild spoilers for "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery."

Rian Johnson's "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" is the "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" of whodunnit sequels (a rare breed, but work with me here). It's bigger, twistier, and twice as ambitious on both conceptual and thematic levels. It's also a tad preachier but in a good way. Whereas its predecessor largely confined itself to a cozy New England mansion in autumn, "Glass Onion" whisks its dramatis personae off on an obnoxiously sprawling yacht to an obnoxiously sprawling mansion erected by an obnoxious billionaire as an oblivious means of befouling the azure Mediterranean beauty of an adorably tiny island on the Aegean Sea.

The billionaire in question, Miles Bron (Edward Norton), is oblivious to his garish taste because he is a wealthy tech bro. Tastelessness is practically a prerequisite to joining this culturally parasitic club. When we first meet Bron, he's picking out the bridge to The Beatles' "Blackbird," one of the most beautiful compositions in the band's unsurpassable songbook, on, so he claims, the acoustic guitar on which Paul McCartney wrote the ditty. Despite the tacky surroundings of his own design, we don't know to despise him just yet, but as the plot thickens and Johnson drills into this brazen operator's past, we discover the depths of his moral depravity — and the filmmaker conveys Bron's awfulness with one single, brutally effective wardrobe choice.

The Twisted Tao Of Frank TJ Mackey

Michael De Luca was New Line Cinema's wunderkind executive in the late 1990s when he went with his gut and granted Paul Thomas Anderson final cut on his follow-up to "Boogie Nights." Though Anderson's sophomore effort didn't set the box office on fire, his porn-industry saga earned raves from critics and racked up three major Academy Award nominations. Lacking a leash, Anderson flung himself into the San Fernando Valley fantasia of "Magnolia," which mashes together a motley collection of broken characters en route to a finale of stunningly biblical proportions. It's the kind of film that cannot, under any circumstances, get made today.

One of the key players in this fever-dream drama is Frank T.J. Mackey, a misogynistic motivational speaker played to sleazeball perfection by Tom Cruise, who ministers to sad-sack men desperate to get lucky with women. Mackey, after being introduced to the cosmic strains of Richard Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra," preaches empowerment to his adoring crowd via one hilariously pathetic phrase: "Respect the c**k, and tame the c**t." He struts about the stage clad in a leather vest and a form-fitting long-sleeved t-shirt, which he accentuates with a greasy tousle of hair tied back in a half-ponytail that sprays onto his shoulders like his hairdresser just struck crude in his scalp.

Mackey is nasty. He's a profane charlatan whose toxic spiel is an aggrieved provocation to sexual harassment, if not assault. But Anderson adroitly cracks him open in the interview sequence with April Grace's Gwenovier. His arc ends with him tending to his dead father's addict wife at the hospital. He's redeemed in some small way. But bros could easily walk out of that movie taking away the wrong message, which Norton's Miles Bron clearly did.

Rapacious Capitalist Cosplay

Via a flashback set in 2010, we learn that Bron was introduced to the central characters by Cassandra "Andi" Brand (Janelle Monáe). He's the kind of persuasive personality who flatters the intellect and ambition of genuine people, and we know he is there to weaponize their outsized dreams because he has dressed and styled himself to be the spitting image of Frank TJ Mackey.

On one hand, this is a nudge-and-wink to movie buffs who've mainlined the cinema of Paul Thomas Anderson. But, given that he's flaunting this outfit eleven years after the release of "Magnolia," we know that Bron isn't just cosplaying. He's embodying a persona that's pernicious to its core. He means to captivate his audience by any means necessary, and he'll not only prey on their resentments but amplify them to get where he needs to go. He is Elon Musk in his pre-Twitter pupa stage. He might come off as a clown when spouting nonsense over beers, but give him access to your better, aspirational angels, and he'll hijack them to serve his own, power-mad ends.

Seeing Norton's Bron in this get-up elicits a big laugh from those who know, but those who know are also aware enough to understand where this wayward hero worship leads. And that's where the laughing stops. Because, at present, we're mired in the residual muck of billionaire self-mythologizing like wooly mammoths flailing about in a tar pit, and there's not a deus ex Monae in sight.

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