Amidst the drama-filled release of Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling and controversial Marylin Monroe biopic Blonde, Tom George’s feature-length, debut tongue-in-cheek whodunnit murder mystery-comedy, See How They Run, is a breath of fresh air.
Set in 1950s London, See How They Run follows seasoned Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and new and eager Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) as they investigate the murder of Leo Köpernick (Adrain Brody) who was set to direct a film adaptation of the Agatha Christie play Mousetrap.
A short – about 90 minutes – but delightfully sweet film, See How They Run is a triumph in the cast alone. Saoirse Ronan steals every scene she is in, with impeccable comedic timing. She and Rockwell complement each other well, perfecting the as old-as-time dynamic of weary boss and over eager newbie. Other standouts include Sian Clifford, Harris Dickinson, Shirley Henderson, and David Oyelowo.
If you go into this film expecting to be pushed mentally or exceptionally shocked by the twists and turns, you may be disappointed when the credits roll. This film is not intellectually challenging, nor do I believe it is meant to be. Some reviewers have criticized it for not being as clever as it thinks it is but I think, at its core, this film is both a satire of, and a love letter to, the seminal and sometimes stupid whodunnits that plague our bookshelves and local cinemas. Adrien Brody’s character, Leo Köpernick, an overconfident Hollywood director, is the clearest example of this. In his many voice overs, Brody picks apart the cliches of the genres just before they happen to him. In this way, by acknowledging the platitudes we have seen many times, the film is able to utilize them in a way that lets the audience in on the joke with a light, kindly touch that doesn’t assume we are too dim to understand them.
“If you’ve seen one whodunnit, you’ve seen them all”, quips Brody in a voiceover. In the case of this film, this is quite literally the point. Instead of trying and failing to do something viewers have never seen, director Tom George and writer Mark Chappell take the best of the murder mystery genre and amplify it. The twists and turns, while not completely predictable, are not, in my opinion, the point. Instead, there is appreciation for the genre and a prioritization of letting us in on the jokes.
At the center of this film is a deep and palpable love and respect for the city of London as well as the rich history of theater, particularly that which is specific to London. As an American who knows next to nothing about theater, I can’t honestly say that I understood every single wisecrack, but it did send me home wanting to know more about the deeply intertwined history of London and theater. Much of the theater lore in the film exists in real life, notably the truth behind Agatha Christie only allowing a film of Mousetrap to be made six months after the play closes permanently, something that to this day has not happened.
Cinematically, this film is exceptional and apart from Ronan’s performance the visuals are without a question the highlight. Reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s bright and maximalist sets and costumes, George creates an atmosphere just as engaging as the story. Because this film captures a story (the play) within a story (the film), we have double the settings and costumes we normally would, allowing them to shine and take on a life of their own. From Ronan and Rockwell’s historically accurate investigative costumes to the extravagant outfits of the actors in the onscreen Mousetrap, we are immersed in both 1950s post war London and the upper class theater scene.
From lavish sets to the charming script to dynamic performances, every shot in this film is a delight. It’s a sweet ride from start to finish, and as my mother described “a balm for these turbulent times”, both in Hollywood and beyond.