See How They Run, 2022.
Directed by Tom George.
Starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, Charlie Cooper, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Pearl Chanda, Sian Clifford, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, David Oyelowo, Shirley Henderson, Paul Chahidi, Lucian Msamati, Angus Wright, Tim Key, Gregory Cox, Maggie McCarthy, Keiran Hodgson, Ania Marson, Philip Desmeules, Laura Morgan, and Tolu Ogunmefun.
In the West End of 1950s London, plans for a movie version of a smash-hit play come to an abrupt halt after a pivotal member of the crew is murdered.
See How They Run so caught up in deconstructing the whodunit genre that it forgets to have endearing characters or a compelling mystery. Worse off, director Tom George (using a script from Mark Chappell) doesn’t offer anything of substance with characters harping on about these clichés.
The groundwork for this approach is laid out in tedious narration by Adrien Brody’s egotistical and confrontational director Leo Köpernick, a filmmaker blacklisted from Hollywood now living in West End London during the height of popularity for Agatha Christie’s stage play The Mousetrap. Leo has been hired by producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) to helm a cinematic adaptation of the megapopular play still drawing packed crowds. However, he doesn’t exactly have a high appreciation for the story or murder mysteries in general, making enemies with his collaborative screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), and other industry types.
Leo is ticked that no one dies in the first ten pages, explaining that a modern audience will get bored and exit the theater. Additionally, he wants the film to end with action and chaos. The guy is high on his own supply and actively wants to dumb down storytelling, and the genre, which one would presume would make him out to be a villain. By his admission, there’s not much to like about his personality, which, in conjunction with the self-referential meta narration, means that it’s no surprise he dies first.
Inexplicably, See How They Run seems to side with Leo, as nearly all of his questionable ideas make it into this whodunit. It’s hard to tell if the film believes it’s clever or funny bringing up narrative devices like flashbacks or “three weeks later” graphics only to deploy them on screen immediately, but whatever the case may be, it’s a startlingly terrible attempt at tongue-in-cheek presentation.
It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to make a movie for someone who has never seen a whodunit before because that’s the only explanation for how this movie talks down to its audience like they are drooling idiots entirely oblivious of the genre’s fundamentals. The script uses these characters as ciphers to openly talk about the genre under the impression it’s revolutionary and brilliant when, in reality, there is not a single thoughtful observation on the construction of these stories.
After establishing Leo’s heat with various characters, he turns up dead on the stage for The Mousetrap. This prompts the involvement of Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), with the former being a seasoned veteran albeit with a limp (one of the film’s oh-so-smart observations is that the heroic detective typically always has an injury and a tragic past) and the latter a rookie with field aspirations.
There’s also something annoying about naming a character “Stalker,” presumably because she is obsessed with solving the case. Not only is it lame, corny, and insulting to the character, but the script doesn’t even deserve the cheery effort Saoirse Ronan brings to this role. It’s nothing more than a cringe stand-in for an enthusiastic audience member jumping to conclusions with each new suspect and interview, thinking they have everything figured out.
Together, they interrogate persons of interest as See How They Run sprints up its ass, limply deconstructing the genre, all while these characters go woefully underwritten, fading into the background even when they are on the screen. Not that it would solve all the movie’s problems if the killer were challenging to pinpoint, but that, too, is obvious.
The period details are aesthetically pleasing, as is some of the crafty cinematography from Jamie Ramsay, and the score from Daniel Pemberton is the only aspect driving momentum, but it’s all superficial to a genuinely pointless and irritating exercise in meta construction. At one point, a character says audiences only remember the last 20 minutes of a movie; no one will remember anything about See How They Run 20 minutes after it’s over.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com