Review: ‘See How They Run’ Murder Mystery Is Truly Stunning
A murder occurs right at the start of « See How They Run » and for very good reason: it’s a thriller about a real murder behind the scenes of a play where all murders are fake.
It’s understood? Good. Can we continue?
Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan star as cops who must solve this thorny mystery in early 1950s London in a film that’s as much a thriller valentine as an indictment, and it’s not always clear which side filmmakers are.
There’s a dash of noir, mockery of murder mystery tropes, a dash of self-awareness, lots of fedoras and coats, mannered humor — « Poppycock! » says a character; « Hitchcock, actually, » comes the response – and an archness that keeps everything at arm’s length.
All in all, an enjoyable, if not memorable, diversion, though it did attract a pretty impressive cast, all employing upper-class British accents as thick as Devonshire scones. It seems perfectly designed for people who love Acorn TV and British mysteries from PBS. Do you know how many celebrities decide to act in children’s films so that their children can finally enjoy what they do for a living? Well, « See How They Run » is for their grandparents.
It begins backstage in the West End at Agatha Christie’s « The Mousetrap, » a mystery that in this story has celebrated 100 performances and Hollywood takes notice. But there’s a catch: no film adaptation can be made while the play is running. This can lead to sabotage.
When the shrewd, would-be director — a delightful Adrien Brody, playing the lone American — ends up murdered — sorry, he’s MU-tough — Rockwell and Ronan show up to solve the crime, he’s got eyes of copper steel who drinks too much and she is a nervous newbie prone to jumping to conclusions.
Brody’s character’s untimely death doesn’t mean he’s out of the movie. It’s our narrator, munching on dialogue like it’s a stuffed pastrami sandwich. « It’s a thriller, » he says at one point. « If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. »
Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith and Harris Dickinson are also in the game. There’s also an intellectual fantasy screenwriter played recklessly by David Oyelowo, who is derisively called « London’s most sensitive writer ». It’s a hoot to see him act insufferably – as it is to see Ronan do comedy.
Director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell revel in the era – the vintage cars, furs and dialogue peppered with « Darlings » and « Hop to it! » This is a movie for you if you like your extremely polite cops. « Constable, » Rockwell told his partner. « Inspector, » replies the underling. They do it about 400 times.
It’s a movie that loves to comment on its own conventions when it withdraws into itself, like when stage props trick savvy characters or when it introduces a flashback and Oyelowo’s screenwriter complains that a such a device is « the last refuge of a moribund imagination ». Somewhere in here is an indictment against Hollywood, but it’s as blunt a weapon as the one that committed the murder.
The filmmakers use all sorts of ways to try to keep viewers interested, like split screens, farce and a surreal dream sequence, but there’s not enough humor or guts or anything. other than actors wearing period clothing.
« See How They Run » fits perfectly into a mood right now – « Only Murders in the Building » on TV and « Knives Out » in movies. Add to the list Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot adaptations « Murder on the Orient Express » and « Death on the Nile. » Fleeces are hot. But if you’ve seen this one, you’ve definitely seen them all.
« See How They Run, » a Searchlight Pictures release in theaters only beginning Friday, is rated PG-13 for « some violent/gory imagery and a sexual reference. » Duration: 98 minutes. One out of four stars.
MPAA Definition of PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some content may be inappropriate for children under 13.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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