In the West End of 1950s London, plans for a movie version of a smash-hit play come to an abrupt halt after a pivotal member of the crew is murdered. (from IMDB)
The murder mystery has been a staple in Hollywood since practically its inception. But in recent years, with Knives Out as a good example, there's been more of a lean towards parodying the genre. The aforementioned Rian Johnson-directed "whodunnit?" was so well received, it has a sequel debuting this month on Netflix (with a short one-week run in theaters). So it seemed entirely no surprise to find a film like See How They Run sneaking its way into cinemas in the final days of this past summer.
See How They Run feels like a cross between Hail, Caesar! and Knives Out in the way that it comically pays homage to the murder mystery genre (Knives Out) while also being a period film that honors the classic plays and films of the golden age of cinema (Hail, Caesar!). In fact, See How They Run doesn't shy away from its Agatha Christie mystery homage by actually basing the film in 1953 London where a play, based on the work of Agatha Christie, is taking audiences by storm. The film is as much a comedy as it is a murder mystery, though its comedic flavor is more subtle and nuanced than plain over-the-top. The movie hardly takes itself too seriously, and makes it a point to nudge-and-wink at the audience from start to finish.
Sam Rockwell plays Inspector Stoppard, a clever detective who struggles with life post-war and uses drinking to numb his pain. Upon the murder of an American film director, he's called onto the scene and paired with the exceptionally green Constable Stalker, played by Saoirse Ronan, who is just starting to learn the ropes as a detective. The unlikely duo is an endearing match, and Rockwell and Ronan have great chemistry together (even when Rockwell's Stoppard doesn't seem to want to be wherever he is at any given moment). The supporting cast is just as talented, including a flamboyant performance from David Oyelowo, a slimey one from Adrien Brody, and an amusingly clueless one from Harris Dickinson. See How They Run is just a fun outing.
But while I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it definitely feels like it falls short of being something great. Calling back yet again to Knives Out, that film not only had a stellar cast, but it was especially memorable with its performances and plot twists and turns. Johnson's effort followed Ana de Armas' character who was also a suspect in the film's main murder, and Johnson told a lot of the backstory in flashbacks. Director Tom George does some of that here in See How They Run, but it's done in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, poking fun at the tropes of the genre, instead of using it just to the benefit of the story. It does work, don't get me wrong, and that technique itself is amusing, but the end result is far less effective than Johnson's film (and I'm really curious how the first Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion, will compare). I love Rockwell's Stoppard character, but his broken nature makes him tougher to connect with as an audience member, with Ronan's Constable Stalker being far more relatable. I can't say for sure if that is one of the drawbacks to this particular tale, or it's just the overall script or direction of it. But in the end, as enjoyable as See How They Run is, it won't be one that viewers will be talking about as much or as often as a film like Knives Out.
The content for See How They Run is a rather light PG-13. There is some language, some blood and a couple murders, but it really isn't worse than any given murder mystery show on TV. There are a couple uses of the "S" word, as well as a few uses of blasphemy, but the profanity is rather infrequent. There isn't any blatant sexual content, but some talk of marital affairs and a lewd remark or two from Brody's character. Finally, the violence is seldom graphic, but we do see a few dead bodies with their eyes hauntingly still open, and one that is particularly bloody with some blood on their head, face, and mouth, as well as all down the front of their shirt. It's also suggested that the victim's tongue had been "ripped out" and we get a quick peek into their mouth while at the crime scene. Later in the film, some characters are shot, with a small bloody bullet hole on a person's clothing as they're hit, and a spray of blood when their leg is hit. We also see some blood on a person's clothing and on another's hands afterwards.
I did catch See How They Run in the theaters in September, and watched it again last night in digital 4K, and I still enjoyed the movie as much as I did the first time (if not a little more so). The characters are entertaining and fun, the storytelling creative, and the set pieces beautiful, but I still can't shake the feeling that it is just missing a special something to make it truly memorable. If you're a fan of the "whodunnit?" genre, any of the recent Kenneth-Branaugh-led Hercule Poirot mysteries, or Johnson's Knives Out, you will probably want to check out See How They Run.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/2/22)
See How They Run Behind the Curtain (25:48) - This is the only extra feature included, but it's a good one. The production for See How They Run began development just before the pandemic hit, but the delays actually helped them to have more time for the project. The filmmakers and cast talk here about how the film plays with the genre and is even "meta" in how it references itself. (Like how things you see during the stage play in the movie are sprinkled throughout other rooms in the film, like during the finale). The featurette focuses on the relationship between Stoppard and Stalker, as well as Rockwell and Ronan. They then cover the 50's setting, how color is used, designing sets, the characters' wardrobe, etc. Several of the cast and crew reflect on what it was like to work during the pandemic, and how good it was to get back to work again after the lockdowns. They also talk about how the pandemic actually helped gain them access to places that would usually be too busy to shoot in, but they were able to use because of them being shutdown -- like the Savoy. (2 "b*stard" and 1 "g*dd*mn" from clips of the movie, and 1 "Oh my G-d")
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/2/22)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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