'See How They Run' Review
September 19, 2022
“It’s a whodunnit. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”
These are some of the last words used by victim Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) to describe Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, The Mousetrap. And after watching the film, See How They Run, I’d have to admit I share the same sentiment.
Mine and Kopernick's feelings towards the genre seem to grow out of the common tiredness of it. Whether it be Rian Johnson’s riff on it with his Knives Out films (which I greatly enjoyed the newest edition at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival), or Kenneth Branagh’s classical revivals of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile (which I greatly despised), there seems to glut of whodunnits. And because I’ve seen one of them, I’ve essentially seen them all. And unfortunately for See How They Run, it has to take up the mantle as the runt of the litter, destined to be cast aside without anyone noticing, or caring.
Before his demise (I’m not spoiling anything, they reveal his death ten seconds into the trailer), Kopernick was witness to the 100th performance of The Mousetrap, which is still playing today on London’s West End after nearly 28,000 performances. He’s been brought in to mount a film adaptation of the play. That is unless he can get along with his writer (David Oyelowo), who insists on “elevating” the material above its genre cliches, and his producer (Reece Shearsmith), who is more busy having an affair with his assistant than managing the talent.
Once the deadly deed has been done, Scotland Yard’s own Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) is brought in to solve the case. He’s joined by the Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), an eager rookie who’s a little too ready to nab her first killer.
Writer Mark Chappell has assembled all the ingredients for a meta and wink-filled time as he stages a real murder mystery within a fictional version of a real murder mystery production. Anyone who’s seen their fill of community theater and Masterpiece productions will be able to pick on the jabs on well-worn genre tropes such as the butler playing a suspicious part and specific red herrings.
And director Tom George, making his feature film debut after several years working on assorted series on the BBC, tries his best to keep things moving at a breezy pace with intricate cross-cutting and split screens.
But even with all that's promised on the page and on the screen, there just always seems to be a disconnect that prevents it all from coming together. A joke may land with a thud, but it’s followed by a great cutaway. Or a joke may be a slam dunk, but then the scene plays a little too long and the air is sucked out of the room. There’s never really a moment where everything is flowing as harmoniously as it should.
The one thing that consistently stays above water is the cast, even if they aren’t all served equally by Chappell (what’s Ruth Wilson doing in such a nothing role?). Rockwell makes a half-attempt at pulling off an Inspector Clouseau impersonation. It’s never fully explained why his character is so tired all the time, but Rockwell pulls it off well enough to just make it seem like it’s just part of his personality. And Saoirse Ronan is an absolute comedy delight in every moment she is given. Still, at only age 28, she could be in for an all-time career if she keeps up this pace. Although they share no living scenes together, a The Grand Budapest Hotel between her and Adrien Brody is a welcome one.
While it may never be as funny or good as it wants to be, there are still a few glimmers of playful genius within See How They Run. It’s just a shame that Rian Johnson has fully harnessed that playfulness for his films, leaving not much room in the public’s collective memory for this so-so affair.