See How They Run review: Saoirse Ronan shines in wickedly funny whodunnit
The new film from This Country director Tom George lovingly sends up murder mystery tropes with riotously entertaining results.
"The thing about whodunnits," opines Adrien Brody's Leo Köpernick in the opening moments of the terrific new murder mystery See How They Run, "is that once you've seen one, you've seen 'em all."
It's 1953, and Köpernick is a big-shot Hollywood director who, on the occasion of the landmark 100th performance of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, is in the West End with the intention of turning the hit play into a major motion picture.
From the off, he has run into various issues – the play can't be adapted until its theatrical run is over, for one, and stuck-up screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris has not taken kindly to his suggestions for jazzing up the action. But that all pales in comparison to what follows, with Köpernick soon finding his ambitions foiled by a spate of real-life murders that put the production in real jeopardy.
If Knives Out was a modern reimagining of a classic Christie tale, then See How They Run goes one step further by directly – and affectionately – poking fun at the tropes inherent in the murder mystery genre, all against the backdrop of one of the prolific novelist's most iconic works.
The result is a wickedly funny riff on Christie's work that not only functions as a riotously entertaining comedy but also serves up a compelling murder mystery in its own right.
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Mark Chappell's sharp script doesn't miss a beat, with some of the more meta moments proving especially successful, and the uniformly game cast elevates the material at every opportunity. Put simply, it's one of the most purely enjoyable films of the year.
The film is helmed by Tom George, who previously directed every episode of the superb sitcom This Country, and he once again showcases his talent as a fine comic filmmaker – making great use of a variety of techniques, including split screen, to ensure the film plays at a zippy pace, aided by Daniel Pemberton's lively score.
He also proves himself adept at staging set pieces with a great deal of pizzaz: a sequence set in the theatre prior to the second murder is brilliantly choreographed – making good use of its Dominion Theatre location – while a more explosive scene in the final act is also a triumph.
The ensemble cast is excellent across the board, but Saoirse Ronan is particularly good value as Constable Stalker – an overly eager cinephile copper who can’t help jumping to conclusions on the basis of very little evidence, much to the chagrin of her alcoholic partner Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell).
That pair have been assigned to the case by Tim Key's Commissioner Harrold Scott – who is otherwise occupied by the Rillington Place murders – and the chalk and cheese double act is an absolute delight, especially as they begin to bond later in the runtime.
Ronan has impeccable comic timing and her character's initial habit of instantly falling for every single red herring will no doubt mirror many viewers' own experiences of watching this kind of mystery.
Elsewhere there are fun, scenery-chewing performances from David Oyelewo as the aforementioned screenwriter and Harris Dickinson as a young Richard Attenborough, while Brody brings great gravitas to the role of Köpernick – a rather odious egotist who gets to deliver some of the best lines in the film.
Meanwhile, there are also key roles for an impressive list of British actors, with the likes of Ruth Wilson, Sian Clifford, Reece Shearsmith, and Charlie Cooper among those to play potential suspects in the mysterious case.
Of course, the crucial thing with any whodunnit is that it provides a satisfying denouement, and See How They Run manages this with aplomb. The final scenes take place – where else? – in the opulent drawing room of a country house, and includes a reveal that manages to walk the tightrope between making sense in hindsight and not having become too obvious at an earlier stage in the runtime.
First and foremost this is just a brilliantly constructed comedy – and cinemagoers will no doubt find themselves campaigning for Stalker and Stoppard to be put on several more cases in the future, much like Benoit Blanc is soon returning for another Knives Out story.
One thing is for sure: this kind of self-aware, comic murder mystery is a far more exciting prospect than the more straight-laced Christie adaptations we've seen from Sir Kenneth Branagh in recent years – revitalising the genre rather than just retreading old ground.
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