A quick but clipped gait in See How They Run

Director: Tom George Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, David Oyewolo, Charlie Cooper, Harris Dickinson Running Time: 98 minutes

The Mousetrap is an institution of the West End, an Agatha Christie murder mystery play that ran in London non-stop from the 1950s until a Covid-enforced pause. Murder mysteries can prompt curious contradictions in their viewer, a play that’s ran for decades imploring its audience not to spoil the ending being symptomatic of this quirk; we nominally want to be shocked but take comfort in how familiar the cases taken up by Columbo, Poirot, Fletcher et al are. What is Aggie Christie homage See How They Run to do then? It’s an entertaining if rote mystery, an easy watch for an increasingly rainy Autumn Sunday at the movies. It never claims to be reinventing the wheel but like a red herring killer, it can protest too much going over otherwise straightforward facts.

Adrien Brody sneers and snarls his way through voiceover in See How They Run, a cynical Hollywood director over in 50’s London prepping a new whodunnit. His bad attitude is raising tensions among the West End social scene and a landmark production of The Mousetrap, including David Oyewolo as an uptight screenwriter, Ruth Wilson as a hungry stage manager, Harris Dickinson as Richard Attenborough and more. A dead body, as is there way, ends up right where it shouldn’t be, and sure enough everyone has a motive. It’s up to Sam Rockwell as the taciturn Inspector Stoppard and Saoirse Ronan’s naïve but earnest Constable Stalker to get to the bottom of the case, but Stalker, keen to prove herself, is in much more of a rush to get there than Stoppard.

The characters in a whodunnit are always going to be sketched pretty thin, leaving it incumbent on the actors to go big, broad and fun. It’s Saoirse who takes up that mantle with the most relish. She shows comedic chops that we don’t’ see that often as Stalker, endearingly over-eager, postured but pratfallish; just competent enough to root for, just hapless enough to laugh with. Ronan wryly mannered delivery fits her into director Tom George’s efforts to emulate Wes Anderson with ease, but George can’t keep up the visual pace and doesn’t have the budget to match Anderson’s set design, so it doesn’t quite come off. He does strike a better balance in the film’s tone, See How They Run keeps it as light as a dark comedy can get, with silly wordplay and set pieces for Ronan to run through.

Her game performance makes us wish for Ronan in a full-on farce, a romcom or something to really sink her screwball teeth into. Unfortunately, not all of her fellow players are up for it in this effort. Great actors like Oyelowo and Wilson get little to work with here and do less with it. Rockwell doesn’t seem enlivened by the project, even for a downbeat character his detective is low energy.

It’s a shame because the audience is likely to meet See How They Run in the middle, along for the film’s quick and breezy ride. There isn’t the ambition, in front of camera, on page or in George’s solid but unspectacular direction, to push too hard against the genre’s conventions, rather it just points at them. It’s a grand whodunnit, but the question this film begs isn’t who, but could they have done more.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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