Tom George’s See How They Run is a fun, albeit predictable affair. The film tells you exactly what it is from the very start and luxuriates in its ribbing approach to the genre.
Clearly reverent of the murder mystery genre, everyone, from cast to crew, seems game in their commitment to carry out this Agatha Christie-like tale, even if some blend into the background. Sometimes, that’s all you need to see projected on the screen. Fun and dedication.
The new era of murder mysteries is here. There’s been some dipping into the pool of Dame Agatha Christie’s works like Kenneth Branagh has for Murder on the Orient Express (and his more critically-panned take on Death on the Nile).
There have also been attempts to create something new whilst sticking to the genre’s roots, with the most successful being Rian Johnson’s Knives Out (with a sequel to that well on its way this year). See How They Run is the latest stab at the genre and is mid-level, which is okay. Films are allowed to just be okay.
Mark Chappell’s screenplay follows the traditional rubric of the whodunnit whilst also simultaneously leading the audience astray. While plot points are foreshadowed, things don’t go as we expect and that’s a good thing.
The introduction features voiceover from Adrien Brody‘s sarcastically egotistical, Leo Kopernick. It’s through this introduction that we’re introduced to the group of characters and would-be suspects to Kopernick’s demise. Yes, this introduction serves to set the scene leading up to his death.
Frankly, in that opening, the audience can’t blame anyone for Kopernick getting the axe. He’s quite unpleasant. Throw in the fact that he is supposed to be directing the film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap after its theatrical run has concluded, something that literally almost the entire gang of characters is involved in? Well, you have a recipe for suspicion.
Once the ensemble of characters is established, Chappell’s script takes us away from the ensemble. Odd for a murder mystery deeply immersed in the realm of Agatha Christie, yet it keeps the audience on its toes. It also serves to highlight the primary character focus of the film – Stalker and Stoppard. Part of See How They Run‘s success is due to how Ronan and Rockwell work together onscreen.
Ronan shows that she can handle comedy well and is unafraid to dive shoulder-first into some physical comedy when the scene calls for it. Her character’s earnestness and desire to succeed combined with the comedy is gold.
Rockwell’s sardonic Inspector Stoppard provides balance to Stalker’s more Energizer Bunny personality. While Rockwell’s accent does remind of Jack Sparrow, which may also be influenced more so by the character’s alcoholism, it doesn’t take away too much from his scene work.
As for the other actors, other notable standouts are Adrien Brody and David Oyelowo. Brody’s general New Yorker accent puts him above everyone as the outsider. As the blacklisted, demanding American director, he doesn’t pull any punches. Guilty of overacting in previous works, Brody being paired with Oyelowo’s distinctively over-the-top playwright, Mervyn Cocker-Norris, proves to be a match made in heaven. Both are game and their scenes are electric.
With that said, the ensemble of characters themselves are a bit disappointing. Considering See How They Run is ensemble-led and consists of notable talents such as Ruth Wilson and Harris Dickinson, it’s unfortunate that the bulk of the ensemble blends in the background.
Each one should steal the attention as they would in a typical Agatha Christie novel. A strike more against Chappell’s screenplay rather than George’s direction considering the talent.
By the time we watch the final act, the foreshadowing work done aims to keep us thinking we know exactly what’s going to happen next. But Chappell injects enough surprises that throw everyone off. Yes, the breadcrumbs were spread about, but it’s so subtle that it’s not until we’re ushered through flashbacks that it all comes together.
The only downside to this is again how the ensemble of characters wasn’t as fully fleshed out as they could have been. It might have added more punch to that twist.
There’s a level of self-awareness to the script that will have viewers either loving or hating it. Chappell clearly loves and is familiar with the genre he’s operating in. From the flashbacks to pointed cards dictating time lapses in the story to Kopernick’s voiceover, there are hallmarks of the genre interwoven into the script that highlights his knowledge. But the self-referential ribbing that occurs throughout the film overstays its welcome after the humor of it wears off.
For a film set in post-war London, great attention to detail was paid in the below-the-line departments. There’s an emphasis on highlighting the bounce back post World War II visually. The colors utilized in the production design, the way the lighting is handled, and the overall cinematography from Jaime D. Ramsay SASC gives everything an extra glossiness. The cleaner look and palette overall serve to contrast against the nasty business of murder onscreen.
Given the middling affair that the film is, See How They Run might have been lost in the crowd come movie season. But, on the other hand, it’s a crapshoot if it’ll make waves being released in September as the Halloween spooky viewing season is upon us.
It is a welcome detour away from the incoming blood, guts, and gore of the Halloween viewing offerings that will rain down on us in theaters.
Competently told and carrying a fun energy, See How They Run is a welcome distraction away from life. While it is a murder mystery, there’s plenty of comedy to go around to keep things light. And, if you weren’t thinking of Saoirse Ronan as a comedian before, you certainly will once the credits stop rolling. That may be the only lasting thing that carries over from the film.
SEE HOW THEY RUN REVIEW SCORE: 6 OUT OF 10
Searchlight Pictures‘ See How They Run will be released in theaters on September 16, 2022. The film is rated PG-13 for some violence/bloody images and a sexual reference.