Agatha Christie fans, take note: See How They Run was made for you. Set in 1952 and centered around her classic mystery The Mousetrap, Tom George’s very British comedy literally takes place in part at her home. A love of Christie and this genre’s formulaic trappings are at the heart of Mark Chappell’s screenplay which embraces these conventions more than it comments on them. The satire is light, the suspense is even lighter, but a star-studded cast and a kooky bunch of suspects are worth your time.
Running at a brisk 90-minutes, See How They Run wastes no time in setting up its players and its goofy, satirical tone. Adrien Brody plays cynical movie director Leo Köpernick, who unwittingly narrates the path to his own demise. He’s been hired to direct a movie adaptation of Christie’s The Mousetrap, which has just opened its 100th show at a West London theater stage. Leo describes the mystery formula to a tee: establish the setting, the characters and their relationships, then have the most unlikable person killed by the least likely person. Unfortunately for Leo, he’s pretty unlikable. He’s killed and then dumped performatively on the theatre stage for everyone to see.
Leo also talked about the introduction of a world-weary detective, and naturally, one shows up. Sam Rockwell plays Investigator Stoppard like he was cloned from the brain patterns of Humphrey Bogart. He’s brought into the case, joined by rookie Constable Stalker, played by the always-wonderful Saoirse Ronan, who injects an innocence and doggedness to the character that balances Stoppard who, of course, is a bit of an old drunk. But he’s also a veteran at this, and reigns in her inexperienced tendency to jump to conclusions without evidence. Then again, her hunches, like any good detective, are sometimes accurate. She also has the movie’s best quips and one-liners…
“That’s the ski he took to the face, sir. It was all downhill from there.”
Nobody liked Leo, so the list of possible murderers is long and each sillier than the last, such as David Oyelowo’s closeted screenwriter, Ruth Wilson as the headstrong producer, or Harris Dickinson and Pearl Chanda who play real-life English movie stars Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim. Along with Reece Shearsmith as famous producer John Woolf, every performance is injected with a sense of fun and light-heartedness to match the film’s tone. The best of which is Ronan, who is already one of the best dramatic actresses in the world and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how funny she is. She’s in the shadow of Rockwell’s acerbic charm here, but nevertheless brightens up every scene she’s in.
It’s a movie that doesn’t demand much but an enjoyable time, especially if you’re a fan of murder mysteries. Flashbacks, cross-cutting, and other stylistic tricks ramp up the procedural qualities, giving it a bit of a modern feel similar to Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. This is definitely a film closer to that blockbuster smash than Kenneth Branagh’s faithful Christie adaptation. However, unlike Johnson’s movie which weaves a head-spinning yarn, See How They Run doesn’t stand on its own as a compelling investigative tale. Its cheeky sense of humor is the film’s greatest strength, and the novelty of watching these theatre snobs and Christie afficianados caught in a real-life Mousetrap with murderous consequences.
See How They Run is in theaters now.