See How They Run

Posted: September 25, 2022 in Film reviews
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Directed by Tom George. Starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson and David Oyelowo.

The year is 1953 and in the West End Agatha’s Christie’s The Mousetrap is celebrating its 100th performance. On hand for the after party is sleazy American director Leo Köpernick (a wonderfully weaselly Brody) who’s been hired to produce the film version of the play. He seems determined to annoy everyone, so it’s probably no surprise when he winds up dead, but who killed him?

Cue the arrival of world-weary Detective Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell), assisted by inexperienced and overeager Constable Stalker (Ronan). It won’t be an easy case to solve because everyone seemed to have a motive, but can Stoppard and Stalker work out whodunnit before the killer strikes again?

It’s easy to compare See How They Run to Knives Out, both are modern deconstructions of the whodunnit genre centred around characters involved in mystery stories, both feature a cast of top notch actors having a ball hamming it us as a motley array of suspects, both feature a lead actor eschewing his natural accent, both feature a standout performance by an actress who’s the beating heart of the film, and in some respects the clever and knowing script is almost a little too clever for its own good.

I loved Knives Out.

So, it was probably inevitable that I’d love this too.

Not that See How They Run is any kind of copycat, and there are as many differences as there are similarities. Rockwell’s low-key performance is the antithesis of Daniel Craig’s Foghorn Leghorn exuberance, and the film prefers a cosy theatricality in place of Knives Out’s biting blockbuster satire (though I think they cost about the same to make). One’s set in the present, the other the past, yadda yadda yadda…

In terms of the cast I’m going to talk about Saoirse Ronan first, because she really is the best thing about the film. Anyone who’s read other reviews I’ve written of films featuring Ms Ronan will know that I’ve long been a fan. I think she’s a fantastic actor and I fully expect her to win an Oscar or two before the end of her career (and I’m slightly perplexed that she hasn’t already). She’s had meatier roles than this, but I don’t think she’s ever demonstrated her comic timing quite so well. There’s a lightness to her performance than makes it all seem effortless, wide eyed and over eager she may be, but she’s no ingenue, she’s smart and resourceful, even if she has a tendency to jump to the wrong conclusions (with hilarious results) and the film leans into its post war setting by giving her a life outside of her uniform, and tragedy in her past.

It would be easy to side-line Rockwell somewhat given the strength of Ronan’s performance, but every comedy double act needs a straight man and Rockwell’s grounded performance anchors the film and never lets it fly away into cloud cuckoo land. Given Rockwell is very capable of playing larger than life comedic characters (see Galaxy Quest!) it’s refreshing to see him taking the quieter role here and let Ronan have the spotlight. It’s a nuanced performance. Stoppard is dishevelled, he’s often drunk and he’s probably depressed, but he’s also clearly much sharper than people think. Much like Stalker, Stoppard is given a backstory, and with both the war looms large in the making of their characters. Rockwell’s English accent isn’t half bad either. 

The rest of the cast are great too. Brody has fun and even manages a moment or two of pathos as the murder victim,  Oyelowo camps it up no end as the put upon screenwriter and Harris Dickinson and  Pearl Chanda luvvie it up as Dickie Attenborough and Sheila Sim, two of several real life characters in the film, see also the ever wonderful Shearsmith’s John Woolf amongst others. Charlie Cooper as an usher and Sian Clifford as Woolf’s wife do well with limited screentime. It would have been nice to see Ruth Wilson get more to do, but everyone is almost upstaged by a Shirley Henderson cameo late on!    

The script is knowing and inventive, and while I loved how meta it was your milage may vary and I suspect others might find it annoying. Fans of the Mousetrap and Christie will either love it or hate it, I doubt there’ll a middle ground. As I said it’s a script that is almost too clever at times, though for me at least it always stayed the right side of things.

George’s direction is effortless, and the evocation of post war London is nicely done. Balancing the bright lights of the West End with post war austerity is handled well. At 100 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome, and if anything leaves you wanting more, and with that in mind I’ll mention Knives Out again because here’s hoping we get a sequel because  I for one would love to see another Stoppard and Stalker mystery!

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