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Film Review: “See How They Run” Tries Too Hard to Mimic the Real Deal

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 15th, 2022

Film poster: “See How They Run”

See How They Run (Tom George, 2021) 2 out of 4 stars.

Best-selling mystery author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) was born 132 years ago on this day, and she still remains, in terms of popularity and sales, the most successful novelist of all time. Specialist of whodunits, she has entranced generations of readers since the 1920 publication of her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. She was also a playwright, and The Mousetrap, first staged in 1952, is as of this writing the longest running play in theater history.

In the new movie See How They Run, from screenwriter Mark Chappell (The Rack Pack) and director Tom George (making his feature-film debut), that play is at the center of a breakneck caper that frenetically attempts to recreate Christie’s magic. If it falls short it is because it tries too hard, the strain showing in every frame. So much effort expended in such exhausting ways! It’s still occasionally fun, however, if not nearly as much as it thinks it is.

l-r: Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan in SEE HOW THEY RUN. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

We are in London’s West End in 1953, as The Mousetrap troupe finishes its 100th performance. An American film director, Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody, The French Dispatch), is on hand to discuss a planned cinematic adaptation, though all he has managed to do since his arrival in England is piss off everyone he meets. It’s no wonder, then, that the night ends with him murdered. This is especially surprising since he has, so far, been our narrator.

Kopernick’s death brings the arrival of two new characters who become our mainstays: Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan, Little Women) and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell, Richard Jewell). She’s all eager get-up-and-go and he’s more world weary, and together they don’t actually make that great a team. Their pairing more serves the purpose of comedy than narrative, though the jokes only land half the time (much like Rockwell’s misbegotten attempt at an English accent).

l-r: Adrien Brody and David Oyelowo in SEE HOW THEY RUN. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

In any case, there is a mystery to be solved, made more complicated by a second killing along the way. Eventually, even Ms. Christie finds herself in the middle of the shenanigans. The movie has much pep and panache, but little vim and vigor.

George and Chappell fill the movie with a mix of real-life and made-up characters, among the former married actors Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson, Where the Crawdads Sing) and Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda, Marionette)—who were in fact part of the group that first performed in The Mousetrap—and among the latter screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo, The Midnight Sky), tasked with working with Kopernick (not a happy union). The clash of personalities is meant to remind us of the many similar dynamics in Christie’s own novels (or in the play) but is instead mostly just tiresome. By the end, though we’ve had some good moments, it’s more than time to run on home.

l-r: Pearl Chanda and Harris Dickinson in SEE HOW THEY RUN. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved
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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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