Written by Goh Yu Ke
One thing’s for sure: Tom George’s See How They Run knows how to keep its promises. A self-professed “second-rate whodunnit,” this film is a rollicking run of a comedy murder-mystery that works precisely in its deep awareness of its narrative boundaries, settling comfortably into the ranks of such genre films.
There’s something delightful about a film that knows exactly what it is and what it’s going to do, and See How They Run delivers just that— a dish of perfectly balanced sides, making for a fulfilling (even if not mind-blowing) meal. It follows jaded war veteran-turned-Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and the over-enthusiastic, fresh-faced Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) as they attempt to solve a series of murders surrounding a 1953 West End stage adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap: perhaps not the most groundbreaking of premises, but with its neat mix of humour, visual stylisation, and a stacked cast, it makes for a plenty satisfying cinematic experience.
The film has no qualms about serving a healthy dose of foreshadowing or even spoiler-esque hints; in fact, the narrative arc is served to us on a platter by murder victim-slash-disgraced American director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) in the opening sequence, in addition to a collection of artfully placed flashbacks from his perspective. To some, this narrative treatment might be a blasé reduction of the whodunnit, or simply a cop-out from good mystery writing (pun intended).
For this writer, however, the structured self-awareness, in redirecting one’s urge to “outdo” the film by solving the mystery before the good guys can (yes, the film sees you, and dedicates a rather tongue-in-cheek moment to Stoppard’s boss smugly declaring his cracking of The Mousetrap’s diegetic murder before his wife), only makes more room for us to enjoy the other elements of the film.
And what fun these other elements are! Comedic moments are aplenty, from puns to cinematic irony to running gags between Stoppard, Stalker, and their Commissioner Scott; an essential lightness that pulls off the self-referential campiness of the film.
Rockwell and Ronan deliver solid performances as Stoppard and Stalker, juggling the heaviness of post-WW2 effects (not to mention murder) against their lighthearted romp through London with convincing chemistry and humour. The cast of supporting characters, played most distinctly by Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, and Harris Dickinson (amongst others), form a resounding and well-tailored comedic chorus, each an effective archetype of the whodunnit that rounds off the ensemble perfectly.
Tom George’s rather Wes Anderson-esque approach is the final piece to the charming puzzle that is See How They Run; the film’s split-perspective sequences are a particular treat, as are the rich set designs that paint an impressive picture of 1950s London. Ultimately, this is a film that makes no apologies for the fact that it’s there to be feel-good, fiercely referential, and above all else, to be fun; a pleasure to look at, to laugh at, and to occasionally puzzle at. And oftentimes, that’s all you need on a night out to the cinema.
This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.
About the Author: Goh Yu Ke is an English Literature and Film Studies student at the National University of Singapore. When she’s not reading or busy with school, you can find her working through her watchlist of 1940s screwball comedies.
About the Movie:
Directed by: Tom George
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson
Duration: 1h 38min
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. When world-weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and eager rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) take on the case, the two find themselves thrown into a puzzling whodunit within the glamorously sordid theater underground, investigating the mysterious homicide at their own peril.
See How They Run is screening in all Singapore cinemas with a PG13 Rating.