See How They Run

“Whodunnits” are surprisingly difficult to pull off. It’s a bit like horror films – there are plenty of them, most are mediocre, some are terrible and a very select few are memorable enough to really stand out. Tom George’s “See How They Run” certainly doesn’t bode well with the film’s constant reminders of the works of Agatha Christie, because it absolutely pales completely by comparison. As a whodunnit, it’s not horrendous but it’s still definitely nothing more than average and the requisite reveal at the film’s climax is underwhelming. Surprisingly though, the subpar plot and the bland murder mystery doesn’t completely upend the film, it’s the fun and unnecessarily delightful performance of Saoirse Ronan that makes “See How They Run” a diverting and entertaining hour and a half.

In the West End of 1950s London, the obnoxious director of Agatha Christie’s play “The Mousetrap” is found brutally murdered at the afterparty for the show’s 100th performance. Of course, in the style of Christie herself, everybody is a suspect and weathered Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), who has seen a thing or two in his life, is appointed to the case with wide eyed newbie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) hot in his wake writing down everything that’s being said with painstaking efficiency. Their investigation reveals a whole sordid underworld of London’s elite theatre types and a murderer that they never could have suspected, although Christie’s Hercule Poirot probably could have in about five minutes.

It’s genuinely such a pleasure to see Ronan in this film, she’s so talented at accents that it’s easy to forget her native Irish lilt. I’ve never really thought of her as a comedic actress (it’s hard to when her film catalogue boasts such lighthearted romps as “Atonement”, “Little Women” and “The Lovely Bones”) but she’s got undeniably good timing and her Leslie Knope-esque style performance is wholesome and endearing. In many ways, the times when Ronan’s dialogue is diverted to exposition or solving the murder is a shame because it reminds us how uninteresting the actual story is. Rockwell is nothing special as the battle hardy and embittered Stoppard, and largely serves as somebody to react to Stalker’s antics. What the director does manage to do is create a family friendly type of film where the comedy is wholesome, the grizzly death is muted and all the supporting cast (this is one aspect where a comparison to Christie is warranted) are all cheerfully unbothered that they’re all suspected murderers.

Unfortunately, despite Ronan’s best efforts, an audience is still going to expect a satisfying twist and at least some of that trademark Christie flair. The film’s “aha” moment is so lukewarm that I can barely remember it now. 2019’s “Knives Out” is a good example of a whodunnit which incorporates a modern flair into that timeless formula which makes Christie’s works like “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile” so accessible even now. “See How They Run” is still a fun time, and an easy “PG” flick which is accessible for the whole family, with a few unexpected laughs along the way.

By Jock Lehman

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