Shady goings-on behind the original stage production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap on London’s West End in the 1950s provide the perfect backdrop for See How They Run, a breezy murder mystery now playing in Prague cinemas and streaming on Disney+.
Directed by Tom George from a script by Mark Chappell, See How They Run is infused with an offbeat sense of humor not dissimilar from a Coen Brothers comedy (see: Hail, Caeser!) but plays things too broad to keep us truly invested in the story, and pales next to more serious-minded Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, now streaming on Netflix.
Still, committed central performances by Sam Rockwell and Saorise Ronan as the London detectives investigating the murder at the heart of See How They Run’s plot help keep the film from becoming overly farcical. Rockwell’s alcoholic detective even provides the movie with a poignant subplot, though Ronan is stuck playing his impossibly impetuous sidekick.
The pair are investigating the murder of Hollywood director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) during a party celebrating the staging of the 100th performance of The Mousetrap in 1953 London. Kopernick was attached to direct the film adaptation of Christie’s play, slated to go into production when it finished its run; a nice in-joke given that 70 years later, The Mousetrap is still running strong (despite a pandemic break).
In a nod to Christie’s plot, the primary suspects have all gathered around the body by the time Rockwell’s Inspector Stoppard (a nod to the Czech-born playwright) and Ronan’s Constable Stalker arrive on the scene.
There’s actor Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), who got into a fistfight with Kopernick shortly before his murder. Attenborough was the real-life lead of The Mousetrap when it opened before appearing in films like 10 Rillington Place; in another in-joke, most of London’s other detectives are investigating the murders committed by John Christie, who Attenborough played in that film.
Then there’s Shepperton Studios producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith), who was being blackmailed by Kopernick during his stay in London; writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), who got into a heated argument with Kopernick over The Mousetrap’s adaptation; and the play’s producer, Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson), among other suspects.
While each of the suspects has a clear motive, and Stalker is quick to leap to conclusions after each interview, Stoppard cautions a more sensible approach… though it might just be an excuse to delay the investigation while he stops by the pub.
The subtle character work between these two characters is the best thing See How They Run has to offer, with nuanced work by Rockwell and Ronan a nice counterbalance to the broadly comedic turns by their co-stars. Still, the actions taken by Stalker just before the climax are absurdly over-the-top.
See How They Run’s finale is a nice nod to The Mousetrap itself, though the film obscures the identity of the killer in a way that Christie would have probably have frowned upon. The writer herself even shows up for the ending, emphatically portrayed by Shirley Henderson, during an over-the-top climax ripped straight from Kopernick’s Hollywood ending.
This one certainly doesn’t reinvent the classic murder mystery, but a solid throwback to a classic formula and excellent period recreation of 1953 London help make See How They Run a pleasant little diversion.
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