Year:  2022

Director:  Tom George

Rated:  M

Release:  September 29, 2022

Distributor: Disney

Running time: 98 minutes

Worth: $15.00
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Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Harris Dickinson, Ruth Wilson

… sly if slight, but it is a good time, if not a great one.

Tom George’s debut feature See How They Run is a light-hearted delight that romps through the whodunit genre with metatextual glee. The film is built for Agatha Christie fans (so many references!) but allows for a less Christie-centric audience to get in on the fun, even if they won’t get all the jokes.

The year is 1952 and the setting is London’s West End theatre district where Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap is celebrating its 100th performance. Blacklisted Hollywood director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody) has been brought in by producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) to adapt the play for the big screen. Köpernick acts as a dummy’s guide to the Christie oeuvre as he narrates the events that led up to his eventual death. Having never seen The Mousetrap, he states “It’s a whodunit. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” He goes on to state that usually the first killed is the most unlikeable character and at some stage a world-weary detective will enter the scene and investigate all the suspects who have motives but are also potential victims, and at some stage he’ll gather them all for a reveal of the killer.

Parts of his analysis are spot on, but the detective who gets the case, Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) is more akin to a Chandler creation than the mannered detectives in Christie’s work.

One thing is true, Köpernick is a heel. He’s a drunken womaniser who turns his hand to a bit of blackmail if it suits his purposes. Ostensibly, the suspect pool for his murder is reasonably large. He is in a battle with the closeted and deeply pretentious writer, Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) over the script adaptation. Köpernick wants the film to essentially be an action-packed noir, Cocker-Norris is astounded at his vulgarity. Köpernick is blackmailing Woolf over his affair with his assistant Ann Saville (Pippa Bennett-Warner). He’s also being incredibly lecherous with the lead actress of the play, Silvia Sim (Pearl Chandra) which leads to an hilarious fight with her real-life husband and star of the play, Richard ‘Dickie’ Attenborough (Harris Dickinson). There’s also a long list of women Köpernick seduced while being a GI stationed in Old Blighty during the war – one of whom he seems to have fathered a child with.

Mark Chappell’s script shines when it’s working at a brisk and amusing pace as it does in the set-up to Köpernick’s murder. Brody is having a ball as the heel who ends up as a staged corpse. Enter Detective Stoppard – a name that has a connection to Tom Stoppard’s farcical play The Real Inspector Hound that also revolves around The Mousetrap. He’s partnered, not happily, with a young and overly eager WPC, Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) who is an energetic foil to his drunken cynical demeanour. Stoppard wants to close the theatre but is stymied by his social climbing superior Commissioner Harold Scott (Tim Key), who also reminds him that there is a much more important case being investigated – that of 10 Rillington Place (yet another metatextual nod, Richard Attenborough would go on to play John Christie in the 1971 film).

Stoppard may be a drunk, but he’s still a decent detective with good instincts. Stalker is bright-eyed and inexperienced, liable to “jump to conclusions” but proves herself to be a capable, albeit frenetic, investigator. With so many suspects, and the usual slew of red-herrings, the pair have to work out how to catch the killer whose victim pool is growing.

Mixing in real-life people with fiction creations, George creates an amusing confection, however it does rather limit the danger to the characters and the possibility any of them could be the murderer. Sim, Attenborough, Woolf as well as his wife actress Edana Romney (Sian Clifford) and mistress Ann Saville are off the table. Other suspects don’t seem to have a motive – theatre impresario Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) gets her payday, regardless if the film is made or not. Cocker-Norris’ live-in “nephew” Gio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) has an extremely vague motive. None of this is helped by theatre employee Dennis Corrigan’s (Charlie Cooper) imprecise description of the murderer. There is even a subplot wherein Stoppard himself is considered a suspect.

Investigating the hows and whys of the mystery does tend to make its house of cards come tumbling down, but there is the reasonable expectation that most of the audience won’t know who the real-life people were with the exception of Attenborough and Sim.

After a decided slump in the mid-section of the film, the fun starts up again as the remaining suspects/victims are mysteriously summoned to Agatha Christie’s (Shirley Henderson) country home. A butler called Fellowes (surely a deliberate reference to Julian Fellowes whose script for Altman’s Gosford Park used the conventions of a Christie mystery) informs the travellers that if they’ve broken down, there’s a garage just down the road. He refuses to let them in until Agatha’s husband Max Mallowman (Lucian Msamati) beckons them in from the snow. Meanwhile, Stoppard and Stalker have independently worked out who the murderer is and race to the scene.

The ending of the mystery is as far from an Agatha Christie concoction as you can imagine, but plays faithfully to Köpernick’s bizarre vision of how he’d end his version of The Mousetrap. By this stage in the film, you’ve either embraced the ride or gotten off the train long ago, so whether or not it works is up to your tolerance for the meta shenanigans George and Chappell employ.

What is undeniable is how enjoyable the cast are. Ronan is a particular pleasure and Oyelowo seems to be relishing flexing his comedic talents. Rockwell is good, if not great, but his energy works in tandem with Ronan’s. Harris Dickinson proves he’s an all-rounder as Attenborough, and the ever-reliable but underutilised Ruth Wilson is a treat. Shirley Henderson as Christie is essentially a cameo, but her weirdly unhinged version of the famous writer is apropos to the film. Adrien Brody is just a blast as Köpernick and brings his best Wes Andersonisms to the role.

See How They Run boasts exceptional production design by Amanda McArthur and evokes a deliberately theatrical post-war London. Both Stoppard and Stalker suffered because of the war, and this leads to them quietly bonding, but overall, the director wants you to enter a pure fantasy.

For the Christie initiated, See How The Run is a treasure trove of knowing nods. For those who are after a diverting period whodunit, the film delivers, although a tad unevenly. Does the film deliver a satisfying mystery? Yes, but with caveats. Is it a good-hearted comedy? Again, yes, with caveats. Overall, the deliberately metatextual angle of the film may be exhausting to a general audience. See How They Run manages to be sly if slight, but it is a good time, if not a great one.