I don’t know about you, but I like an intense “who-done-it” mystery, the type of story where we have the main character actively trying to solve a vicious murder and for what end. Even though the proceedings are dramatic, a modern “who-done-it” is couched in a comedic genre, allowing ease with which we can familiarize ourselves with the characters (think, Neil Simon!) and their surroundings. We can gleefully, if not carefully, add Tom George’s See How They Run to a potentially long list of films.
The setting is 1950’s London. A stage play, See How They Run, written by Agatha Christie, is enjoying an extended run in the West End. The film rights have been acquired; however, they cannot be executed until the play ends its run. Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) is the director assigned to the film, and he is at odds with everyone else, leading to his rather public murder. It is up to Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to solve the case.
See How They Run is staged (pardon the pun) is episodic in nature, guided by Mark Chappell, who primarily wrote for British television. This style of writing does not diminish the film’s overall feeling; we’ve reached an age where television storytelling has surpassed cinematic storytelling, somewhat limiting the confines in which director Tom George can operate.
George relies on his stable of actors, namely Rockwell and Ronan, to carry the story forward. Both are strong in their roles, even if this has become a repetitive role for Rockwell. Inspector Stoppard is not well-liked by his colleagues and is someone who despises a shadow. Still, the shadow theme repeats throughout, both in character and in the image.
Rockwell does a fine job with the character, imbuing Stoppard with his trademark idiosyncrasies. Stoppard has his hands full between having to solve a personal mystery and the overall mystery at hand. Ronan enjoys being a fly on the wall for much of the first act. She is adept at blending in, constantly keeping notes, much to Stoppard’s dismay. As an inspector-in-training, she ultimately couldn’t have had a better trainer in Stoppard, but not without some bumps in the road. They make a great pair on screen.
See How They Run’s issues stem from its matter-of-factness. George plays the film as if it was a Wes Anderson film, which I usually wouldn’t mind. However, it feels out of place for the story being told. The characters and certain camera shots evoke this feeling, too and it was distracting.
David Oyelowo’s performance as Mervyn Cocker-Norris should be mentioned for his humorous subtlety, especially his scenes opposite Brody’s Köpernick. Chappell enjoys the camaraderie between characters, not allowing the characters to fully be themselves.
The case is a standard “who-done-it” for much of the film’s run time. George and Chappell throw a few curveballs that actively pique our curiosity and turn the character-driven piece into something more interesting. Other characters drop lines of dialogue that inform the course of the movie, and it manages to break the fourth wall. The curveballs change the story’s path, but not enough to make this enjoyable farce stand out.
The real heroes of See How They Run are the crafty technicians behind the scenes. While the story is cheeky, the set and costume design thrive in the Art Deco period of the 50s. Daniel Pemberton’s score is light and vivacious, and all three elements draw you into the unfolding world.
While See How They Run fits within the great classic “who-done-its.” From Peter Sellers-driven Pink Panther to Neil Simon’s The Cheap Detective, Murder by Death, and Parker Brothers’ board-game-turned-comedy, Clue, See How They Run is just uneven enough that it can’t be held to the same standard as the other classics.
See How They Run
Directed by Tom George
Written by Mark Chappell
Starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, David Oyelowo, Tim Key
98 mins, PG-13, Searchlight Pictures