SEE HOW THEY RUN movie poster | ©2022 Searchlight

Rating: PG-13
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Sam Rockwell, Harris Dickinson, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, Reece Shearsmith, Shirley Henderson, Sian Clifford, Tim Key, Angus Wright, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Lucian Msamati, Charlie Cooper, Pippa Bennett-Warner
Writer: Mark Chappell
Director: Tom George
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Release Date: September 16, 2022

SEE HOW THEY RUN is a clever, amusing send-up of Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries. The movie is simultaneously a parody and an embodiment of the form. It’s filled with literary, cinematic and theatrical in-jokes, but it is also a respectable whodunit.

The target audience for SEE HOW THEY RUN is most likely people who have not only heard of Agatha Christie, but know that her play THE MOUSETRAP really does hold the record for as the world’s longest-running play. It opened in 1952 in London’s West End and ran until March 16, 2020, when it was closed due to COVID. (It re-opened on May 17, 2021.) In SEE HOW THEY RUN, we’re in 1953 London.

THE MOUSETRAP is celebrating its one-hundredth performance. Author Christie sends a note declining to attend the party, but contributing an elaborate cake to the festivities. Alas, all is not well. Film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) has acquired the screen rights to THE MOUSETRAP. He’s hired snobbish writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) to adapt the script, and American Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) to direct. By the time we meet them, Leo and Mervyn openly loathe one another. Leo, who serves as our occasional narrator, also hates English murder mysteries so much that he hasn’t seen THE MOUSETRAP play. Then there’s a murder at the theatre. Enter Scotland Yard Detective Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and his trainee Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). Stoppard, in the tradition of ‘50s detectives, has a tragic past and drinks heavily. Stalker is an eager beaver who writes down everything everybody says, and tends to jump to conclusions. Writer Mark Chappell does a bang-up job of mixing up real-life people with fictional characters. Woolf was a real person, and “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), later to be better known as Sir Richard Attenborough, was indeed part of THE MOUSETRAP’s original cast. Chappell and director Tom George allow both historical and invented individuals to intermingle freely, so that all of them are part of the story – nobody comes off as a name-dropping cameo.

The filmmakers have a lot of fun with genre conventions. If someone declares they deplore a particular trope, SEE HOW THEY RUN will promptly deploy it within moments. However, this isn’t CLUE, or even KNIVES OUT. The style of SEE HOW THEY RUN feels specifically British. There’s more fondness for the theatre than is often seen in American films, and a gentler view of the police – who, we are often reminded, don’t have guns in the U.K. The film’s humor is studded with small, knowing riffs. One example is mention of the Rillington Place murders. The killings were in reality being investigated in 1953, but it feels like this is brought up repeatedly because SEE HOW THEY RUN personage Attenborough would later star in a filmed dramatization of the case.

The cast members on the showbiz side of things all have snap and pizzazz, with Brody and Oyelowo especially going full-on ‘50s acting style. Ronan brings period comedy spunk to her aspiring sleuth. Rockwell is much more restrained, as befits a man weighed down by secrets.

The production design by Amanda McArthur is delightful, and Odile Dicks-Mireaux’s costume design tells us a great deal about these people before they even speak. SEE HOW THEY RUN is droll and enjoyable. But there is something a bit tamped-down here, as though SEE HOW THEY RUN doesn’t want to hit anything too hard, lest it be accused of taking itself too seriously. Modesty is generally a virtue, but it can also make for an experience that partially evaporates the moment it ends.

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