'See How They Run' Knows It Isn't Great, Which Is Why It's So Good

Directed by Tom George

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Harris Dickinson

Photo: Parisa Taghizadeh

BY Prabhjot BainsPublished Sep 12, 2022

Tom George's See How They Run opens with a narration that begrudgingly acknowledges the weakness of whodunits: "You seen one, you've seen 'em all." But the film wholeheartedly wears this on its sleeve, revelling in the genre's inherent campiness to stage a delightful, charming and satisfying ode to detective fiction. The film is no masterpiece, but it has no aspirations of being one, leaning into the form's exaggerated tension and slapstick with (mostly) excellent results. The passion with which it was made is wholly palpable, transparent and infectious — a clear sign of a filmmaker who loves a good crime yarn.

Set in the West End of 1950s London, a movie adaptation of the smash-hit Agatha Christie play The Mousetrap comes to a sudden standstill when the film's American director (Adrien Brody) is murdered. When grizzled Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and wide-eyed rookie Constable Walker (Saoirse Ronan) are forcibly partnered on the case, they find themselves part of a bewildering whodunit within the cutthroat world of theatre, where they must investigate at their own risk.

This could have easily been a lifeless and derivative riff on Agatha Christie, but thankfully, its self-aware approach allows for a fun and clever deconstruction of the genre and its structure, tropes and flaws. It's refreshing to witness a film simply having fun with itself, while still retaining the technical, visual and stylistic prowess of a great cinematic experience — something the recent Kenneth Branagh adaptations were in dire need of.

As it pokes fun at the genre, See How They Run still takes the time to make broader pointed jabs at the shameless exhibition of art-making, and how stories often callously borrow from real life without paying any respect to those affected. Even though it's commentary can, at times, be a little too on the nose, it's mostly a sharp and wonderfully wry satire.

A large reason for its success as a cohesive experience is due to its skilled photography, which evokes the glorious Technicolour sheen of the era. The vibrant hues pop, and its production design has a marvellous textural quality that makes the central investigation that much more enthralling. While the cinematography does take a page from Wes Anderson's playbook, it tows the line of homage deftly, utilizing the medium to its full advantage with its visually inventive jests.

In addition to the stellar visuals, the performances across the table are all strong, with the dynamic interplay between Ronan and Rockwell being particularly great, as it is repeatedly grounded in earned emotion.

Ronan's eager rookie writes everything in her notebook, from the mundane to the significant, much to the chagrin of Rockwell's veteran inspector — leading to a great running gag where, each time she relays information, she's greeted with a "Yes, thank you constable." But what makes this joke, and many others, land, is the innate chemistry she shares with Rockwell, and the fitting arcs their characters traverse. Other highlights include Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, and Harris Dickinson as Richard Attenborough, who all round out the cast with distinct skill and flair.

See How They Run concludes on a perfectly meta note, wrapping up its examination of the whodunit and the theatre world with tact and wit — albeit not in completely shocking manner. During the climatic reveal, a character concedes that the central play "is not exactly Hamlet," and the film beautifully relishes that label, understanding the importance of a well-made, delectable slice of entertainment.
(Searchlight Pictures)

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