The latest in what’s becoming a long line of murder mysteries in the genre’s resurgence, See How They Run is an inconsistent, unfortunate misfire. Though it’s not starved for laughs, and there are a couple of entertaining performances, that’s about all it has going for it. With a couple of great recent murder mysteries (Knives Out and Bodies Bodies Bodies), and at least one serviceable one (Death on the Nile), See How They Run falls short.
This film’s biggest problem is that it has a major identity issue. It makes it abundantly clear that it knows it’s a murder mystery, and it knows that all the tropes it’s falling into have been done in every one in the past. It’s attempting to do the Adaptation or Seven Psychopaths thing, where it’s aware of the conventions, but can get away with using them because they’re done so successfully. But See How They Run gets to that point and stops. It’s not offering any sort of meaningful commentary on the genre. The furthest it goes is to summarize the genre’s typical pot points.
Its main conceit is that it’s about the production of the Agatha Christie play, The Mousetrap, in the 1950s. The film uses this as a mechanism to incorporate Richard Attenborough as a character played by Harris Dickinson. In doing so, there is a myriad of references to films of the era. But just like the rest of its lackluster screenplay, this doesn’t serve much of a purpose beyond showing that the filmmakers know some film history.
The main positive force See How They Run has behind it is its cast. Saoirse Ronan plays Constable Stalker, who’s learning the ropes on this kind of case. Her overeagerness and, perhaps, unpreparedness make for a fun and bubbly character. Ronan, with her four Oscar nominations, has made quite a career out of being serious and dramatic, so it’s a lot of fun to see her be lighthearted, silly, and quirky here. Unsurprisingly, she’s great, and the main reason to watch the film at al. Unfortunately, just like the rest of the film, her characterization barely goes beyond the surface. We learn the bare minimum about her family history before getting back to the jokes and hijinks.
David Oyelowo is the other obvious standout performance-wise. His vivacious screenwriter character isn’t nearly in enough of the movie to be proportional to the entertainment value he provides. And Adrien Brody gives us a good prologue, but seeing as he’s the victim of the murder, his talents are also sadly missed. But they’re not missed as much as Sam Rockwell’s, who’s unfortunately miscast as Inspector Stoppard (something I never thought I’d say about Rockwell). His London accent is about as spotty as it gets, and since he’s given next to nothing interesting to do with his character, he looks bored the entire time. This is no Matchstick Men.
I’ll remember See How They Run, if at all, mostly for its wasted potential. It’s not bad — it’s editing is interesting, and it does its best Wes Anderson impression in both cinematography and sense of humor (there are a fair amount of genuine chuckles), but it’s story is a massive flop. You’ll be discussing what to have for dinner in the car, instead of the twists and turns of an exciting story.