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See How They Run, a mystery-comedy featuring a fantastic cast that includes Soairse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo and more.
So, a good amount of talent in front of the camera and a broad enough approach that should allow for plenty of wit and smart takes on the whodunit formula? Should be a winner. Unfortunately, See How They Run doesn’t quite deliver on the level it could have and should have.
The film is set in 1950s London and follows the case of a murder that takes place backstage during the celebration for the 100th performance of Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap. The victim is the play’s director, Leo Kopernick – Adrien Brody, clearly having fun in the role. Seeing as he wasn’t exactly a likeable fellow, there are, of course, a number of suspects – many with gripes that could make the culprits. On the case are Constable Stalker, an eager, wide-eyed rookie played brilliantly by Saoirse Ronan, and world-weary Inspector Stoppard, played by Sam Rockwell.
There are a number of elements at play in See How They Run that makes it a somewhat enjoyable ride – at least in the first half. The film’s balance of homage and spoof of Agatha Christie mysteries is enjoyable as the suspects are presented and the mystery elements are set up. The cast is also undoubtedly strong, and the film greatly benefits from having them chewing up some pretty simplistic and stereotypical parts.
But, the film’s early promise fizzles away surprisingly quickly. It’s clear that director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell, who both come from careers in television, have love for Christie and the ins and outs of a whodunit tale. They want to have fun with the tropes and deliver a film that is both self aware and a mystery in its own right. It’s only that neither aspect is nailed down in a way that we haven’t seen before – and done much better. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, for example, nailed the balance – and it was less overt in its self-awareness.
The issue is that See How They Run’s self-awareness doesn’t add much to the film’s humour and doesn’t make it feel all that smart, and the overall mystery itself is flatly explored and fails to engage you in the case. Even if you don’t see certain plot turns coming, the reveals don’t feel satisfying or all that surprising. It also doesn’t motivate the viewer to take part in the investigation, as great whodunits do. Pretty early on I started feeling like there wasn’t much point in keeping track of the film’s clues, since the film appeared more focused on showcasing its genre signatures and tropes than in providing an enjoyable puzzle. By the time the big reveal comes, following a sluggish and highly telegraphed second half… “Oh, okay.”
Another area coming up short is the overall production. See How They Run looks and plays out like an old-fashioned British television production from yesteryear – which, of course, should make it a comfortable watch for certain demographics, but I’m not in those. Perhaps the television feel of it all comes from director Tom George, making his first feature here following many television credits such as This Country and Defending the Guilty. I just found that they could have easily made this a more theatrical experience, which would have helped make it a more compelling watch.
Still, there are aspects of See How They Run that keep it from being a write-off. Hardcore fans of Agatha Christie works will get a kick out of at least a few of the film’s many nods and references, and cinephiles should enjoy the inclusion of a number of real-life characters, including Richard Attenborough (played by Harris Dickinson), producer John Woolf (played by Reece Shearsmith), and actress Sheila Sim (played by Pearl Chanda), among others.
The film’s best feature, though, is Saoirse Ronan as Constable Stalker. Ronan brings a touch of depth to her role and she is often the sole driver of her scenes – scenes often involving many characters. Importantly, the four-time Oscar nominee showcases strong comedic timing, helping provide the film with the humourous touches that aren’t there when she’s absent from the screen. We really do need Ronan in more comedies. And Rockwell, as he often is, is also quite good here as the straight man – even if that British accent doesn’t quite hold. The two bounce off each other quite well.
So, with all the negative, did I hate this film? No – not at all. I just didn’t really enjoy it. I was, unfortunately, often a bit bored.
‘See How They Run’ opened in U.S. cinemas on September 16th and Australian cinemas on September 29th.