“See How They Run” is a big swing: big premise, big cast, big homage

The whole thing is a knowing nod to the Whodunit genre of mystery and crime films.

  • Directed by: Tom George
  • Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Harris Dickinson, Adrien Brody
  • Mystery/Crime | PG-13 | 1 hr 38 min

By Reed Ripley

See How They Run is an ambitious gambit: the film is a murder mystery set within and around a theatrical murder mystery, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, a play that’s continuously run in London’s West End since 1952, the year in which See How They Run takes place. The film is fictional, but many of its characters are true historical figures, including legendary actor Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), his wife and fellow actor Shelia Sim (Pearl Chanda), prolific mid-century film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), and even Christie herself (played by Shirley Henderson and slyly withheld until the last act). 

The whole thing is a knowing nod to the Whodunit genre of mystery and crime films, made famous through Christie’s long line of work, most prominently those in which a devilishly clever detective (most prominently Hercule Poirot) solves a murder amidst a varied cast of characters in a secluded location. These stories’ basic touchstones arguably devolved into a rinse-and-repeat formula (upon which Christie built a literary empire), and See How They Run isn’t afraid to opine on a perceived, resulting staleness. 

There’s also the vein of a movie about moviemaking, which is one of my favorite subgenres (for example, Singin’ in the Rain, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), here taking the form of adaption rights to The Mousetrap, literal storyboarding of a scene that shows up later in the film, and Attenborough’s tweaking of his character’s acting choices. It’s another layer to the film’s Whodunit commentary, this time about the industry machinations behind the genre, and it’s much-appreciated.   

The tone and aesthetic choices are interesting, too. There’s a decidedly Wes Anderson feel to it, complete with quick camera pans, lively costume and production design, a thumping jazz line, and Anderson mainstays Saoirse Ronan and Adrien Brody. It’s not a complete Anderson lookalike though, as the tone is much more subdued, and there a ton of other cinematic influences running throughout (including a memorable nod to The Shining and a Scooby-Doo running-through-doors chase sequence). 

Speaking of Ronan, she plays the audience-analogue Constable Stalker, a widow from the War and single mom whom Scotland Yard tapped to bridge their gender gap, at least in totemic fashion. She’s paired with Sam Rockwell’s Inspector Stoppard, a veteran of the force and the War, drinking his way through the case and his grief. The two characters work splendidly together (no surprise given Ronan’s and Rockwell’s typical output), which helps keep the film’s disparate thoughts and flourishes together. 

However, the problem with trying such a winking and inventive twist on the Whodunit formula is it’s easy to get caught up in the nuance and forget to deliver a satisfying conclusion to the central murder mystery. Yes, meta commentaries’ point is to commiserate with the audience about tired genre tropes, but the best versions work because they find a way to needle their predecessors while also delivering a standalone product that celebrates the very reasons why those predecessors took off. See How They Run doesn’t quite achieve the latter. At times, it gets too caught up in its own cleverness, and the last act falls short of delivering that big dopamine hit of a good mystery solved. 

See How They Run is a big swing, especially for a directorial debut: big premise, big cast, big homage. Sure, it doesn’t completely come together, but better to try for something special and fall a little short than intentionally achieve mediocrity.   

You can find more review from local movie critic Reed Ripley at Ripleysreviews.com.

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