Film Review – See How They Run
See How They Run
See How They Run (2022) is a fun little murder mystery, even when it gets too clever for its own good. The “whodunnit” storyline is a tried and true premise. It allows for a large cast of characters to interact with their conflicting personalities. Of course, the fact that one of them is either the killer or next to be killed adds to the fun. This doesn’t necessarily flip the genre in new ways, but it has enough charisma to make up for its shortcomings. It knows what kind of movie it is, and even goes so far to point it out repeatedly. Some might find this tongue in cheek self-awareness cutesy to the point of aggravating, but that wasn’t the case for yours truly. Although this is a light and fluffy affair, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Written by Mark Chappell and directed by Tom George, the narrative places us in London’s West End shortly after WWII. We learn that Agatha Christie’s latest story, “The Mousetrap” has just celebrated its 100th stage performance. A possible movie adaptation is in the works, with several filmmakers in attendance. Among them is producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), screenwriter Melvyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), and director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody). Kopernick is of particular interest. Not only does he function as our narrator, but also as our corpse. Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) are called in to investigate the killing. Among those they interview include actor Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), theater owner Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson), and usher Dennis Corrigan (Charlie Cooper).
What follows is your standard procedure in which Stalker and Stoppard piece together what happened the night Kopernick was murdered. The cinematography (Jamie Ramsay) and editing (Gary Dollner, Peter Lambert) construct sequences with several split screens, dividing the frame in two sections to alternate between time and location. Sometimes we will see one event from multiple angles, or two characters will be shown at different places at the same time. Flashbacks are heavily used, detailing who was doing what and when – accompanied by each suspect’s testimony. Sometimes what is being told and what we see do not match, creating an atmosphere of doubt. Anyone and everyone could be lying. This approach lends to a lively sense of pacing, although the production does lean on the style quiet often.
The biggest artistic choice – the one that will ultimately win or lose an audience – is the plot folding in on itself, becoming self-aware of its own tropes. As things progress, we start noticing that the play within the movie oddly resembles the case Stalker and Stoppard are dealing with. On stage sets resemble places characters visit, with dialogue and plot points also repeated. Before his demise, Kopernick describes an action scene he envisions for his movie. Wouldn’t you know it, that description matches a later set piece. Many will find this technique overbearing – that the production spends too much time trying to be witty as opposed to telling a developed, engaging story. I found it amusing. No, the execution is not handled as well as say, Adaptation. (2002), but it isn’t to the point of distraction. At the very least, George’s direction and Chappell’s writing keeps everything consistent. They add just enough flavor to stand apart from other familiar genre entries.
It also helps that on an aesthetic level, See How They Run is filled with eye candy. Post-war London is recreated with a nostalgic quality. The theater where the central action takes place, nearby hotels and pubs, the bustling police station, etc. – the art direction and set design create the backdrops with hyper-like textures. The cinematography places subjects in center frame, either looking directly into the camera or slightly off of it. The visual compositions have a deliberate, fabricated sheen – nothing about this place feels like it comes from the real world. Fans of Wes Anderson will immediately recognize the patterns. This isn’t the kind of tale one goes to find grittiness or documentary-like authenticity. Everything looks and feels polished.
The setting creates a place for our actors to have fun with their performances. Whatever shortcomings there maybe in regards to structure is made up with a cast that all appear to be having a good time. Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan make for a pitch-perfect odd couple. Where Stoppard is barely functional with his drunkenness and half-interest in the case, Stalker is overly ambitious and quick triggered. One of the running gags has Stalker jumping to conclusions over who the culprit is, with Stoppard having to calm her down. The two anchor the narrative with their partnership, surrounded by colorful characters, each with their unique quirks. David Oyelowo deserves specific mention as the screenwriter, whose ego make him both an effective comedic relief as well as a prime suspect. Adrien Brody also appears to be having a blast as the dead director. There’s a noir-tinged way about him, not just because he narrates as a dead character (calling to mind Sunset Blvd., 1950), but also in the cynicism he carries. He’s been around the block one too many times, and it shows. Sure, Kopernick may be a blowhard and control freak, but that might be the very qualities that make him good at what he does.
The joy of See How They Run isn’t with the identity of the criminal – the film even specifically mentions this. It’s in seeing distinct characters clashing in entertaining ways. This doesn’t flip the “whodunnit” on its head or subvert its familiar traits, but the energy, visuals, and playfulness of the whole piece make it worth diving into. It’s sleek, escapist fare, and there’s certainly nothing wrong about that.