By Josh Reilly B. and George Bate
Amidst the array of remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, a good old fashioned whodunnit is welcomed with open arms. The genre that has produced such classics as Clue, The Last of Sheila, and Death on the Nile has been largely restricted to prestige mini-series in recent years, leaving a gap in the theatrical market for films like 2019’s Knives Out to fill. The latest attempt to resurrect the whodunit on the big screen is See How They Run, a murder mystery within a murder mystery from director Tom George and writer Mark Chappell.
See How They Run stars Sam Rockwell as Inspector Stoppard and Saoirse Ronan as Constable Stalker, who are tasked with investigating the murder of a film director behind the scenes of the 100th production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap play in London. And, just like a classic Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple mystery, suspects are investigated, motives are uncovered, and the identity of the killer is revealed.
Adrien Brody plays Leo Köpernick, a Hollywood film director hired to adapt Christie’s play for the big screen. Köpernick is the archetypal victim of a Christie murder mystery – he’s loud, dislikable, and seemingly everyone in his vicinity has a motive to kill him. Köpernick is in London to watch The Mousetrap play as he and his fellow filmmakers struggle to adapt it for theatrical release. As Köpernick butts heads with just about everyone during this process, he remarks about whodunnits like The Mousetrap (and, in a meta-aware way, See How They Run), “They’re all the same.” It’s this remark that happens early in the film that tells the audience that what is about to unfold may not be an archetypal murder mystery. Yes, it seems like it will cover a number of tried and tested tropes and themes, but Brody’s wink at the audience suggests the audience is in for something more novel. What proceeds forward is a perfectly serviceable whodunnit that is, unfortunately, light on suspense and originality.
See How They Run plays in remarkably predictable fashion, at least from a structural standpoint. Motives are established, a murder occurs, the police investigate, suspect after suspect is questioned, and clues are uncovered. There’s nothing wrong with a whodunnit adhering to this structure. In fact, it’s a well-established structure in literature, television, and film for a reason – it works. But, See How They Run lacks an angle of novelty or subversion to make it stand out as anything other than yet another murder mystery. The film’s point of uniqueness is in its “murder mystery within a murder mystery premise.” The idea to stage a murder mystery around a stage production (pun intended) of a murder mystery is intelligent, and provides the audience with various winks and meta-references throughout. This premise also affords the inclusion of various real-life people involved in The Mousetrap stage production, including Richard Attenborough, John Woolf, Sheila Sim, and, of course, Agatha Christie herself.
For all of the promise of the presence, and the criticism of whodunnits from narrator Adrien Brody’s character, it is ironic that See How They Run is not more subversive or unique. Perhaps this was the point – to push back against those who have continually doubted how long murder mystery stories like these can last (that it’s 2022 and a new Hercule Poitrot mystery film released earlier this year would surely dispel any of these doubts). Still, this commentary that runs throughout the film serves as a tease of a more subversive whodunnit, and one that unfortunately never comes to fruition.
Despite that, there is plenty to enjoy about See How They Run. Sam Rockwell and Saorise Ronan both deliver witty performances that keep the film entertaining throughout. Ronan in particular is the standout, delightfully portraying a bright-eyed, young police officer with a charm and wit that largely sets the tone of the entire film. This hero also serves to inform the audience in a lot of situations, particularly as Ronan’s character is a film aficionado who speaks about the movies and performers of the time, including Richard Attenborough, a suspect in this story and a real life actor. Rockwell, meanwhile, delivers a more deadpan performance. Sporting some mannerisms and an English accent reminiscent of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, Rockwell balances wisdom and good morals with a drunken, bumbling sense of humor.
See How They Run is also a beautiful film. Imagine Wes Anderson directing an adaptation of a Hercule Poirot novel and that’s the general aesthetic of the film. Director Tom George uses quick edits, split screens, and frequent flashbacks to make the story come to life as best as possible. The production design to bring about 1950s London is superb and is magnified by the stunning cinematography by Jamie D. Ramsay. The story may be a little flat, but the film cannot be faulted for its impressive technical elements.
See How They Run is a straightforward murder mystery that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite live up to its promising premise. The latest whodunnit is constantly on the verge of greatness, and perhaps a bit more suspense or originality could have been the difference maker to push it in the right direction. Nonetheless, the West End of 1950s London is beautifully realized and stars Sam Rockwell and Saorise Ronan excel throughout, keeping the title entertaining throughout.