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See How They Run ★★★



Director: Tom George

Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Reece Shearsmith, Pearl Chanda, Ruth Wilson, Sian Clifford, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Charlie Cooper, Pippa Bennet-Warner, Harris Dickinson

Release: September 9th, 2022 (UK)

The murder mystery genre is back with might and main. Following in the footsteps of Knives Out, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, See How They Run has arrived to take us on a tour of the glamorous British West End with a rather meta take on stage butchery – and there’s a double meaning here too…

London, 1953. It’s theatre night, and the celebration of a centennial run of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’ is upstaged by a boisterous post-show reception that ends with a dead body centre stage. This is blacklisted Hollywood director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody), who hubristically narrates the tale forthcoming from the night in question.

The inspector on the case is a hackneyed Inspector Stoppard, played by an underutilised Sam Rockwell. With almost paradoxical sleuthing methods to them, the Batman to his Robin – although Stoppard initially definitely doesn’t see it like this – is wittingly-named Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). A new blood with bubbly naiveté and an untamed penchant for dad jokes to battle the lacklustre drunkenness of her superior. The scene is quite literally set when the interweaving alibis and flashbacks of the suspect circle begin.

Among the whimsical cavalcade are overrated (ahem, celebrated) screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), who is still reeling from Kopernick’s lewd screen adaptation suggestions, his Italian toyboy Gio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) and right-hand man, film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) who shares this disdain for Kopernick. Alongside this is Woolf’s disgruntled wife, Edana Romney (a nicely cast Sian Clifford) and his secret-no-so-secret secretary-mistress Ann Saville (Pippa Bennet-Warner), theatre impresario Dietrich-esque Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) who runs the play, and leading actor and actress and real-life couple, Richard ‘Dickie’ Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda). Not to mention a few other motley crew members like awkward usher Dennis (Charlie Cooper) and Petula’s wacky mother, Mignon Saunders (Ania Marson).

A first feature for Tom George, director of mockumentary gold This Country, See How They Run, boasts an impressive British ensemble to play out the everyone’s-guilty-until-proven-innocent parade. With such a stellar cast, the performance potential was high – yet a scanty plot hinders any palpable character study. This is a murder mystery that serves its purpose, a fun watch made possible mostly by handsome location and meticulous periodic mise-en-scene that otherwise plateaus.

George’s style influences are clear – an energetic camera whizzing across the recognisable Soho streets, snappy editing and some timely split screening suggests the film has inhaled some Wes Anderson typology (not to mention recognisable cast members). What’s more, is the self-confessed cinephilia of the rookie cop, perhaps mirroring that of the director, nods to the Old Hollywood stylings of much earlier Agatha Christie renditions.

Whilst it follows the convention of its murder mystery form quite unimaginatively, See How They Run surprises with a witty humour owing to moments of slapstick and a fleshed-out witty screenplay by Mark Chappell. PC Stalker is full to the brim with punny quips, complemented by the physical comedy of This Country’s Cooper as the awkward usher and a believably ostentatious Oyelowo. Well-timed one-liners locate us within the glitzy furore throughout – “Maybe the play’s the thing that ties it all together” – which embraces a fashionable self-awareness. A whodunit within a whodunit and a theatrical within a theatrical providing the perfect amount of sarcastic nuance to let us in on the joke.

All too soon, the narrative climax is executed without any panache (the attempt at including a combustible prop to tick the climactic pyro box is pitiful); hence the mystery is solved with an unsatisfying slump that leaves you high and dry. To some extent, the film pokes holes in the recognisably clichéd nature of the genre by being self-referential at times. Sadly its prominent predictability fails what could have been a reinvigorated anatomisation of this theatrical form.

See How They Run serves amusement in a velvety and quintessentially British fashion. Still, ultimately the bubbling effervescence with which it sets the scene of the mystery dissipates all too soon. For a mere 90 (ish) minutes, some champion production design and a wickedly talented Saoirse Ronan makes a snappy trip to the cinema a pleasurable one.

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