‘See How They Run’ spoofs on a tired genre
‘See How They Run,’ inching its way onto movie screens this week, is part of a generational revival of the whodunnit genre. The Knives Out franchise represents the blockbuster segment of that revival, and Kenneth Branagh’s square, star-studded adaptations of Agatha Christie classics are for the olds. SHTR falls into the meta-comedy category, like ‘Murder By Death’ and ‘Clue’. It’s not as broadly parodic as those movies, but it never takes itself too seriously, and spends a good amount of the runtime winking at its own existence.
The meta spreads in all direction. All the movie’s murders take place in 1953, around the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap,’ the ultimate theatrical expression of whodunnit clichés. The movie is hyper-aware of this, and has its wacky denouement take place in the drawing room of Christie’s country estate, which looks exactly like the set of the play. Though the deaths are quite gruesome, they have no emotional effect on the surviving characters whatsoever, another cliché of the genre of which the movie is thoroughly self-aware.
SEE HOW THEY RUN ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Tom George
Written by: Mark Chappell
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, David Oyelwo, Harris Dickinson
Running time: 102 min
As always with these kinds of stories, the movie wraps up any delights in its detective characters. In this case, it’s Sam Rockwell, playing a rumpled alcoholic cuckold, and especially Saroirse Ronan, as his constable trainee who’s angling for the sergeant’s exam. In another sign of how seriously this movie takes itself, Ronan’s character is named “Stalker,” and Rockwell is “Inspector Stoppard,” a direct reference to the Tom Stoppard whodunnit metacommentary play ‘The Real Inspector Hound.’ That’s how deep the leveling goes.
Rockwell is fun to watch as always, but Ronan, who doesn’t do a lot of comedy, is the magnetic delight in See How They Run. She gets all the best lines and most of the best bits. The movie reveals that her character, who initially seems to be a pun-slinging naif, is actually a war widow with two children, which gives a lot of depth to someone who could be a one-joke throwaway. See How They Run is a lot more interested in its detectives than its mystery, and spends an equal amount of screen time plumbing their relationship and their personal lives.
The rest of the cast is a varied lot. Harris Dickinson is quite funny as “Dickie” Attenborough, The Mousetrap’s leading man. Adrien Brody chews up the screen as an unlikable American film director. The movie wastes Ruth Wilson, who doesn’t have much to do as a theatrical producer. David Oyelwo is surprisingly hammy and bad as a pretentious gay playwright. The movie jumps around from subplot to subplot and technically gives these characters something to do, but always comes back to Ronan gazing out a car window with her big blue eyes.
It all closes out with a delightfully goofy and meta-meta final act, where the movie winks so broadly at the audience, you’d swear it had something caught in its eye. It features Dame Agatha herself, as a complete self-interested bumbling fool who’s willing to sacrifice anyone in her path for art. This is all bullshit, it seems to say, just like ‘The Mousetrap.’ But damned if, just like The Mousetrap itself, everyone in the theater didn’t enjoy it anyway.