Meant to be a lighthearted romp, much like the production portrayed in the play being put on within the movie, See How They Run finds ways to be frothy without ever really challenging us. To say the film is inspired by the works of Agatha Christie is selling the influence short; the movie wouldn’t exist with out Christie, end of story. Set in London’s West End theater district circa 1953, things kick off with the 100th performance of the smash whodunit stage show The Mousetrap, written by Christie and eventually set to become a major motion picture. But with a clause in the show’s contract that a film production cannot begin until six months after the play closes and with the show being such a hit, those desperate to begin the movie are pressuring the theater producers to close early. It doesn’t help that Leo Köpernick (Adrian Brody), the eventual director of the film, is a world-class asshole and lecher who hates the current screenplay (courtesy of David Oyelowo’s Mervyn Cocker-Norris) and has made countless enemies on his road from Hollywood to London.
Strangely enough, Leo is our narrator, which is particularly problematic when he is murdered and has his tongue cut out in the wake of the 100th-performance party. With many suspects and a deadline to either get the play running again or risk losing the production to the movie people, veteran Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and his rookie assistant, Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), are brought in to solve the case, weaving through a colorful, eccentric cast of self-centered showbiz types. Ruth Wilson’s Petula Spencer is the play’s producer and is eager to get the show back up immediately, despite the stage becoming a crime scene; film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) is keen to be accommodating, but with Leo out of the picture, the film production seems primed to run quite smoothly. Some of these characters were real-life people, no more so than the play’s lead actor Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), who seem happy just to be working in such a successful show. Dame Christie (Shirley Henderson) even shows up at one point, with a lovingly silly flair.
British television directing veteran Tom George makes his feature filmmaking debut with See How They Run (working from a screenplay by Mark Chappell), and despite the presence of a particularly grizzly murder at its center, the film is about as lightweight as an episode of “Murder She Wrote.” Still, Rockwell and Ronan are a terrific mismatched pair, with him quietly observing each suspect while she is convinced each person is guilty after they are interviewed. She takes copious notes, even about her partner, while he lets everything simply soak in and percolate until the mystery becomes clearer. Some of the other performances are a bit too broad and unfocused to make us care one way or another whether they survive until the end of the film or are guilty of murder.
As for the mystery solving, it’s handled as almost an afterthought, which isn’t unusual for whodunits. But naturally, the killer never once has suspicion laid upon them, and there are zero clues given that would lead audience members to the culprit. That element of See How The Run lands with a bit of a dull thud, but as long as solving the overarching mystery is important to you, there’s enough playfulness and amusement to hold things together, just barely.
The film is now playing in theaters.
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