Telling a good murder mystery in this day and age requires a lot of skill given the long history of the genre. Masters like Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and others have done it so well that any new attempt must bring something new to the table in order to stand out.
The hook of new film See How They Run is that it’s actually set around the original production of Christie’s The Mousetrap in London’s West End in the 1950s. The play, celebrating its 100th performance, is being feted with a party attended by the cast, including star Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), producer Meryn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), and director of the potential movie adaptation, Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody).
When a person at the party is murdered, naturally everyone there becomes a suspect. Officials from Scotland Yard, including Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), start an investigation, one that is hampered by Stalker's lack of experience and overly eager personality, as well Stoppard’s perpetual drunkenness and generally surly attitude.
Directed by Tom George and written by Mark Chappell, both of whom are making their feature film debuts, the movie plays out as an overly clever version of a murder mystery. Köpernick starts the film with a voiceover that makes fun of murder mystery stereotypes while the film adheres to those very same stereotypes. This self-awareness continues throughout the film, providing the occasional slight chuckle but little else.
More successful is the portrayal of Stalker as the comic relief. She’s seemingly innocent and naïve, but her use of puns, insults, and asides indicates she knows more than she lets on. Ronan’s delivery of the various lines is pitch perfect, especially paired with the hard-nosed character of Stoppard.
The murder mystery itself is ho-hum, as the focus of the film seems to be more on the eccentricities of the characters instead of the mystery itself. Given that, it would have been nice to get to know some of the people better. Only Stalker and Stoppard become more than one-dimensional, with the rest defined by little more than their quirks.
Ronan and Rockwell are the clear stars of the show and so it’s their performances that come off the best. Ronan has four Oscar nominations to her name, but she’s as gifted at comedy as she is at drama, and she’s a delight in this role. Rockwell is given the rare opportunity for an American to use a British accent, and though he does that well, his character fails to make a big impact.
The self-referential nature of See How They Run is a bit too much, with the rookie filmmakers overplaying their hand. It won’t go down as a classic whodunit, but it offers some light entertainment for anyone who doesn’t want to work too hard in their movie viewing.
See How They Run opens in theaters on September 16.