The whodunnit genre is a comfortable place, if you understand what makes it tick. However, it’s only those who are truly reverent of its charms that can successfully get away with murder when making a movie like Tom George's See How They Run. Half of the familiar formula lands in a film that lovingly delves into real history and classic cinema in an attempt to deliver delightful distraction. Though looking a bit closer at the clues presented, any amateur detective will be able to see that what’s really missing from this enjoyable exercise is a key extra mile.
Using a mixture of fictitious characters alongside real world events and people from 1953, the mystery of this pseudo-fictional story surrounds the death of Leo Köpernick (Adrian Brody), a man instrumental to the potential film adaptation of a successful West End play. Motive and opportunity are abundant as Leo was a bit of a cad, leaving Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) with their work cut out for them. A mis-matched pair, Stoppard and Stalker have to get to the bottom of the case before the killer can strike again.
Featuring a lot of meta comedy, See How They Run very much understands the basics of murder mysteries.
Between director Tom George and writer Mark Chappell, there’s definitely an appreciation and great understanding of the fundamentals that make a murder mystery. That much is felt throughout See How They Run, as there’s a rich current of jokes that lead the audience to red herrings, false starts, and legitimate foreshadowing of what’s to come. It’s all there from the beginning, as future victim Leo Köpernick tells us, “It’s a whodunnit. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.”
Were that statement merely the foundation for what happens throughout this mystery comedy, a team could take its audience to some very interesting places. See How They Run takes that meta comedy attitude a bit too far, however, to the point where it plays as an homage to more interesting murder mysteries rather than creating its own intriguing caper. By time the modest, sensible clues are laid out and the solution is revealed, it doesn’t inspire a shocked gasp so much as a shrug of acceptance.
As a comedy, those meta humorous moments do land some laughs, and all involved get their turn to be witty. Without a strong mystery to hang all of these components off of, though, it all feels a bit too cute and winking in the execution. That’s certainly not the fault of the performers, as See How They Run’s all-star cast brings another well worn practice of murder mystery filmmaking to the table.
Amid an impressive ensemble of actors, Saoirse Ronan rises above the rest to make See How They Run her movie.
Murder is usually more fun on the big screen when you have a bunch of well-known faces to throw into the mix. Score another win for See How They Run in this respect, as Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, and Adrian Brody are flanked by the likes of Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, and Harris Dickinson, among others. That assortment of talent performs exactly as you’d hope, but even then Ronan’s Constable Stalker vaults above the lot and steals this movie.
With a combination of quirky crime stopper meets astute investigative mind, Ronan’s character is the surprise anchor of this starry cast. See How They Run pairs Saorise Ronan and Sam Rockwell against each other rather effectively as co-leads, and he performance helps with some of the rockier tonal shifts the script navigates. Though Rockwell's world-weary, beaten down detective is fun in his own right, the material never really pushes him to step too far outside of that basic character outline.
Dramatic precision and comedic timing propel Ronan forward throughout, giving the audience a fantastic surrogate who bounces around the theories they’re formulating in the theater. If See How They Run were to be considered a franchise starter, it’d be Constable Stalker who would carry the brand forward.
See How They Run is a fun whodunnit, but it lacks madcap energy.
There’s some promising ingredients in See How The Run’s recipe for murderous mayhem. It’s an overall entertaining exercise that has fun with what it’s doing, which is absolutely paramount when creating an entry in such a rich genre canon as that of the whodunnit. That doesn’t make up for another very important shortcoming in this ode to the works of Agatha Christie, which is the lack of madcap energy.
Usually, a whodunnit is either a mostly serious affair with some comedic edge thrown in, or a race to the finish through absurd complications, wordplay, and occasionally a death. See How They Run never seems to pick a lane as to which of those two avenues it wants to serve. That confusion makes trying to figure out what sort of movie we’re watching the true mystery, leaving the events unfolding on screen to take a backseat at times.
See How They Run is enjoyable to watch, while being frustrating knowing what could have been. The way that this film is marketed, you’d expect the second coming of Clue or Knives Out, which is completely betrayed by the more serious elements in the script. Die hard genre fans will still find some chuckles, but the public at large might not be slayed by what this killer is trying to accomplish.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.