Josh Reviews See How They Run
Set in London in 1953, See How They Run tells the story of a murder that rocks the production of the Agatha Christie murder mystery play The Mousetrap. Grizzled Scotland Yard Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and the young, eager Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) are tasked with investigating the murder, and they must attempt to sort through the many suspects to find the killer.
See How They Run is a fun, enjoyable film! It moves along at a brisk pace (its short, 98-minute run-time is a breath of fresh air in this era of very lengthy films), it’s amusing (it’s seldom laugh-out-loud funny, but the whole film has a pleasant sense of slightly-loony silliness that I quite enjoyed), and it’s also a cleverly structured, twisty murder mystery. I’m pleased that I was not able to guess the identity of the villain before it was revealed.
The film has enjoyable layers of meta self-reflection. The Mousetrap is a real play, and the film features fictionalized versions of many real people, such as actors Richard Attenborough (familiar to today’s generation from his role as Dr. John Hammond in Jurassic Park) and his wife Sheila Sim, producer John Woolf, and even Agatha Christie herself and her second husband Max Mallowan. (I’m not sure how accurate any of the portrayals of these people in the film are. As most of them are depicted as slightly buffoonish, in fitting with the general comedic tone of the film, I can’t imagine any of them would love their portrayals here. But it’s possible these portrayals were not intended to be accurate. For instance, they cast a wonderful black actor, Lucian Msamati (who you might recognize from playing Salladhor Saan on Game of Thrones), to play Max Mallowan, who was white. I love that color-blind casting, and I wonder if that wasn’t intended to show that, while they’ve used a lot of real names, these versions of the characters are intended to be fictionalized. After all, this story of a murder happening backstage at The Mousetrap did not, in fact, happen!)
Interestingly, there are many self-reflective layers beyond just the setting and characters. The Mousetrap itself was, as the film tells us, actually based on true events. The detail that the contract for the film adaptation of the play stipulated that the film could not be made until after the play closed is indeed a fact. The film itself, See How They Run, winds up depicting many of the twists and turns that director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) had suggested, earlier in the film, for his planned movie adaptation of The Mousetrap. (That sort of playfulness, in which the film itself becomes the adaptation that had been earlier discussed, has already been done, and done better, in the 2002 film Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. But it’s nevertheless a device that works well here.) (The only problem is that the film gilds the lily by pointing out the joke to the audience by having one character say “Mervyn wouldn’t have liked this,” referring to the writer who’d said earlier that he hated Köpernick’s suggestions for a more exciting movie ending. Pointing out the joke, to me, deflates the joke.)
The film’s title, See How They Run, is itself a self-referential joke. I didn’t get it at first. After seeing this film, I’d wondered why it had this seemingly random title. But in reading about the real play The Mousetrap, I discovered that its original title was Three Blind Mice. Suddenly, the film’s title See How They Run makes perfect sense!
As is critical for an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery like this, the cast is terrific. The leading pair of Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Moon, The Way, Way Back, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Lady Bird, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch) are terrific. I’d love to see many more films in which this mismatched pair investigate murders! Sam Rockwell can play self-absorbed and dismissive better than almost any actor alive, but he’s always able to keep that little twinkle in his eye to keep his Inspector Stoppard interesting and not too unlikable. Ms. Ronan, meanwhile, is wonderful as the desperate to please Constable Stalker, who wants nothing more than to learn how to be a good investigator, but who has a habit of jumping to conclusions. Adrien Brody (Liberty Heights, The Thin Red Line, The Pianist, The French Dispatch) is very funny as the arrogant film director Leo Köpernick, who wants to make a film adaptation of The Mousetrap but who doesn’t seem to actually like the play one bit. Equally funny is David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Selma, Jack Reacher, A United Kingdom) as Köpernick’s nemesis, the suave, pampered writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris. It’s fun to see Mr. Oyelowo, who is so great in dramatic roles, play a more comedic character here. Ruth Wilson (Luther, His Dark Materials) is solid as producer Petula Spencer, though I wish the film had given her character a little more to do. (For instance, I wish I’d better understood her motivation for adding the clause in the film adaptation contract that the movie could not be made until after the play closed.)
Those were the stand-outs to me, but there’s an equally wonderful group of actors who bring to life the rest of the characters in the film: Harris Dickinson as lead actor Richard Attenborough; Reece Shearsmith as producer John Woolf; Pearl Chanda as lead actress Sheila Sim; Pippa Bennett-Warner as Ann Saville, with whom John Woolf is having an affair; Sian Clifford (Fleabag) as Edana Romney, Woolf’s paranoid wife (who has a good reason to be paranoid); Tim Key as the pleasantly dim Commissioner Harold Scott; Charlie Cooper as theatre usher Dennis Corrigan; Shirley Henderson as Agatha Christie; Lucian Msamati as Max Mallowan; Paul Chahidi as the butler Fellowes; and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Mervyn’s (ahem) “nephew” Gio.
See How They Run was written by Mark Chappell and directed by Tom George. I enjoyed it.
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