starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo
written by Mark Chappell
directed by Tom George
by Walter Chaw TV director Tom George's feature debut See How They Run is a Wes Anderson shrine decorated with screenwriter Mark Chappell's theatre-brat deep cuts, which ultimately just leads one to ask what of it is its own. Set around a murder that takes place at the time of the 100th performance of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, complete with original cast members Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and Deila Sim (Pearl Chanda), the whole thing is a twee exercise in medium shots, split screens, and not much else. George and his production designers are gifted at creating clean, period-cozy environments, but all those acres of slick really do is demonstrate how money can buy a talented team of costumers and craftspeople in the pursuit of a recognizable veneer of prestige and quality. What it doesn't do, at least in this case, is provide the courage and the vision--perhaps it's experience and wisdom--to tell a story that isn't all surface pleasures. The real problem is that See How They Run has nothing to say about the world, about people, or, frankly, about Agatha Christie or murder mysteries. It doesn't even have all that much to say about itself. It's more the elderly Catskills chic of "Only Murders in the Building" than the genuine social revisionism of Knives Out. It has its opportunities; it mostly ignores them. It's a choice, and your mileage may vary.
After unctuous movie director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) is murdered for the crime of being a crass Hollywood douchebag, Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) of the Yard and eager Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) are summoned to make heads or tails of it all. Does Kopernick's name a nod to Carl Zuckmayer's The Captain from Köpenick, about an impostor working under the flag of the Kaiser to fleece a small town's treasury? Is Stoppard a reference to playwright Tom, who once wrote a one-act Agatha Christie parody called The Real Inspector Hound in which a pair of theatre critics watching a murder-mystery play become embroiled in a murder mystery that echoes the play? Sure. Yes. Undoubtedly. See How They Run is the Shrek of old British plays and playwrights, even sharing a title with a Philip King three-acter about spies hiding out in English hamlets disguised as vicars and engaged in hilarious slapstick blows about the head and face. It's the kind of low action in which the movie engages as well--low action and, in some cases, low characterizations, as with a fey playwright played to an unseemly hilt by David Oyelowo. I had hoped we were past the days when straight actors played gay men this way, but something about if a frog had wings and bumping its ass a-hopping...
Yet for all the in-jokes and famous figures, including a cameo from a dotty Dame Agathe (Shirley Henderson) herself, See How They Run is not historical fiction. It isn't interested in recreating the world where The Mousetrap first began its legendary run in London's West End in 1952--and has run continuously (but for a brief interruption during the COVID pandemic) ever since. Tens of thousands of shows, and this picture is set right at performance #100. Is it significant? Does it matter? Aside from being a curious thing to note along with all the other meaningless but curious things to note about See How They Run, it isn't and it doesn't. Nor does it matter that Inspector Stoppard's wife has cuckolded him and left him in his cups, or that Stalker is a mother who tries very hard at her job and has caught Stoppard, a man she admires, lying to her a time or two so he can sneak off for a quick spot of gin. See How They Run introduces potential places for the film to go to develop these characters into people rather than clues, but alas, clues they remain. For instance, is the mysterious woman who is one of the last people to see Kopernick alive in fact Stoppard's ex-wife, thus giving Stoppard some kind of motive to murder the man after the party celebrating the 100th performance of The Mousetrap? I could waste a lot of time describing the plot, but suffice to say, it's twisty without being mysterious. Like a Twizzler--and just as artificial and plastic. There are genuine delights in Rockwell and Ronan's performances, and whenever an opportunity arises for them to demonstrate real pain and anxiety, they take it. I wasn't sorry I watched See How They Run, but I won't remember having done so as soon as I'm finished writing this.