The “murder mystery” once filled British bookcases and cinemas. Whilst the novels of Agatha Christie remain popular, murder mystery films had largely disappeared. That was, until the brilliant Knives Out was released in 2019. This film acknowledged the ridiculousness of the genre but pushed it further, creating a great meta-comedy which subverted the genre’s tropes. See How They Run tries to follow in the same meta fashion, although perhaps with too many knowing winks and name-droppings of classic crime fiction. It also maximises the classic factors with its setting, not only the 1950s, but also amongst the cast and crew of The Mousetrap: a play written by Agatha Christie.
The Mousetrap, for those who have never heard of it, is the longest running play in the West End. Opening in 1952, it has since done 28,000 performances, only stopping because of the pandemic. See How They Run is set a year after its debut. With its success, American director Leo Köpernick (Adrian Brody) has been tasked with directing a film adaptation. Yet, there is resistance from the cast, theatre owners, and even in-fighting within the film’s production team. When someone is brutally murdered during the party for the play’s 100th performance, suddenly the whole theatre is under investigation.
Enter Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and his inexperienced colleague Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). Rockwell gives a very adequate performance of a weary detective, but Ronan completely outshines him. She is the “Woman Constable”– a new hire to the force that is bursting with enthusiasm. The relationship of bored boss and over-eager underling is never one that fails to be funny, but Ronan puts so much energy into the role and is absolutely hilarious. So often a star of period dramas, she has not had many opportunities to be in comedy but hopefully that will change after this film.
Another comic performance worthy of attention is Adrian Brody’s Köpernick. He has been cast as a smooth-talking narcissist many times in Wes Anderson films. Unlike with Ronan, he is not trying something new, but he does what he does very consistently. As with any murder mystery, the script was full of whacky and interesting characters. David Oyelowo plays the flamboyant writer of the film script, although I was left wanting to know more about the relationship between him and his “nephew” (that didn’t look a bit alike…). Sian Clifford, aka the sister in Fleabag, pops up a couple of times to play the ridiculous wife of the producer. Her one-liners sent the whole audience into a fit of hilarity.
Not only does she get some of the funniest lines, but she has been brilliantly costumed to bring out her ridiculousness. There is some lush costuming, as expected for the genre. I particularly liked the outfits of Oyelowo’s character as it added greatly to his screen presence. The cinematography was not as much of a success as the costuming. Whilst there was a nice use of colour and symmetry in some scenes, the repeated use of split-screen was annoying. There was no reason the events could have not been shown once at a time in sequence. It left you without a focus and the film lost its immersive quality as it jumped from widescreen to a different aspect ratio that didn’t fill the screen.
It could be argued that this was part of the technique of this meta-murder mystery – to make the viewer realise they are watching a film. However, I don’t believe that was the intention. The plot also pretends to be far smarter than it is. Whilst Knives Out did genuinely subvert the genre, See How They Run just complains about the common tropes of it and then makes them bigger and more bloated in its conclusion.Whilst See How They Run perhaps isn’t quite as revolutionary as it sees itself, it is still a very enjoyable film. Take your Mum to see it if she comes up for a visit, she’ll find it fun.