" It’s lonely being a cannibal — tough making friends "
— Jeffrey Jones, Ravenous

MRQE Top Critic

Fury

An important milestone in the career of one of the great directors of silent and sound cinema —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

Spencer Tracy feels Fritz Lang's Fury

Sponsored links

The self-inflicted wounds of clumsiness trip up the cleverness afoot in See How They Run.

West End Murders

Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan)
Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan)

It simply doesn’t add up.

Take a great cast that includes the very capable talents of Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Adrien Brody and Daniel Oyelowo and throw them into something that — generously speaking — could be described as an historical fiction murder mystery satire. The result should be at a minimum a modestly entertaining lark.

Instead, See How They Run is a languid curiosity piece that raises many more questions than it answers.

What’s up with the title? There’s hardly any running at all. Plenty of standing and sitting; not much running.

Why is the self-proclaimed “least likable character,” Leo Kopernick (Brody), not despicable enough? Creating a pompous jerk of a movie director who is virtually devoid of any sense of taste and cultural awareness should be like shooting fish in a barrel.

For that matter, how is it the dead guy is also the narrator? The characters rattle off movie references, including African Queen. Maybe the intent with this device was to play off Sunset Boulevard.

The Mousetrap

The mystery, set in 1953, revolves around The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie’s legendary, long-running London stage play. True to life, the play’s a juggernaut that started performances in 1952 and has been running in London’s West End ever since, with a short pause during the pandemic, when all theatres went dark. (One of the most interesting facets of the movie’s production is the filmmakers were able to take advantage of the Covid shutdown to film on location in theatre and hotel settings otherwise not likely possible during the normal course of business.)

In See How They Run, Leo has been hired to direct the movie adaptation, but he’s got some big (actually, gawd awful) ideas to freshen it up; ideas that are further challenged by a screenwriter who has his own issues with creativity. A few characters have conflicting motivations; one would like the stage show to close after only 100 performances in favor of the movie version. And somebody’s going on a killing spree.

It’s a setup that works for the first 15 minutes, as the characters are introduced. There’s some funny banter between Constable Stalker (Ronan) and Inspector Stoppard (Rockwell) that gets things started on the right foot. Dry — very, very dry — wit and plays on words. She’s a law enforcement newbie in need of training; he’s a drunken slob in need of some enthusiasm.

Once the marquee murder happens, though, it’s a quick descent from “whodunnit” to “whybodder.” The humor sticks around, but the charm wears thin and any sense of tension fails to take the stage.

Mirror Crack’d

The shame of it is there’s something more lurking around, trying to escape from the trappings of the concept and make it onto the screen. That includes a small role for Agatha Christie herself, which could’ve really made an impact if only the story had gone for the jugular, so to speak.

Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) with Stalker
Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) with Stalker

Leo states, “It’s a whodunnit. You seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.” It’s an obnoxious thing to say, particularly in a whodunnit, until it’s considered his whole goal is to do something different. That vision is on display in some remarkably detailed storyboards Leo presents in which a character who looks remarkably like Inspector Stoppard solves the crime. Keep in mind, Leo and the inspector never meet, at least not while Leo’s alive.

As the movie stumbles forward, those storyboards wind up coming to life in a clever riff on art imitating life, which is an aspect of The Mousetrap itself, given it’s based on a true story.

It’s clever. But it doesn’t work as well as it could or should. And it doesn’t qualify as the audacious production poor Leo had in mind.

The prime suspect behind the lack of much-needed tension and pacing can be found in the production history of director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell. This is George’s feature debut; the rest of his considerable experience, though, is TV-based. And that goes a long way in explaining why See How They Run never feels like a truly cinematic experience. Rather than split-screen takes of comings and goings, a period piece murder mystery like this would benefit from more of the little, old-school things — like film grain — to give it a more complete sense of time and place that transcends the costumes and the cars.