See How They Run
A postmodern take on the classical whodunit mystery.
Overflowing with self-referential connotations and a zestful, playful tone, See How They Run yearns to achieve more than it finally does, with the director, Tom George, and screenwriter, Mark Chapell, weaving a meta whodunit, brimming with self-awareness, but failing to realize the actual mystery aspect of the story. Set in London in 1953, the movie narrates the fictional story about a real work, Agatha Christie's Mousetrap, the longest-running West-End show that runs non-stop from 1953 until today with the exception of the period when the Corona-19 restrictions were imposed in 2020. Oli Welsh, in his review of the film at Polygon.com (See How They Run review: Agatha Christie’s most famous mystery, but meta - Polygon) neatly describes the film as "a big meta gag" and "an in-joke of a movie", bringing forth the film's creators' intentions that can be summarized in concocting a clever comedy tailored into the structure of the archetypal whodunit story, or else a fictional whodunit about a whodunit. The genre's principles and foundations are relentlessly castigated in the first lines of the movie where the producer Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) deconstructs the basic plot elements that comprise the typical whodunit story in the briefest, as well as coldest, manner imaginable. Kopernick mentions the cliched tropes that have saturated this narrative form, beginning with the "interminable prologues", moving on to the bumping off of the most unlikable character on set and concluding with the eternal intervention of the "world-weary detective" who finally finds the solution after a fixed process of suspect elimination that eventually leaves one man standing as the culprit.
The story commences when Kopernick, an American expatriate and movie producer expelled from his home country due to his political leanings, is found murdered on the theater stage on the set of the Mousetrap play that has recently reached its 100th performance in its first run. The American was despised by his colleagues as his impudent attitude and brash nonchalance regarding other people's worth deemed him a rather preposterous individual who, for that reason, is the ideal victim for any respectable whodunit work. Enter the detective-protagonist, Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), his name being one of the many meta-references in the movie as Tom Stoppard is a famous playwright who has also written a play about a theatrical murder, creating his own postmodern farce. Inspector Stoppard meets all the criteria of a "world-weary" protagonist as his way of speaking, or more correctly mumbling, his body language and broken communication with those around him put him at the epicenter of the film's comical dimension. On top of it all, Stoppard has to handle the immature naivete of his newly appointed sidekick, Constable Stalker (a nod to Tarkovski perhaps?), played by the beautiful New Yorker Saoirse Una Ronan. The other characters are real people who at the time worked in the production of Agatha Christie's infamous play like the well-known English thespian Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), and the producer John Woolfe (Reece Shearsmith), though everything else concerning their portrayal within the movie's context is entirely fictionalized.
The director employs a variety of techniques to enhance the efficiency of his antics, one of them being the use of slapstick humor, reminiscent of Buster Keaton's early work. Owing its kaleidoscopic influences to the prior work of a horde of authors, plays, and films, See How They Run, can be seen as a series of consecutive meta-references that struggle to prove the ingenuity of the creators who aspired to make a meta whodunit balancing swiftly between comedy and mystery, but eventually failing and delivering a genre-bending motion picture that is best to be perceived as a comedy rather than an attempt at mystery. The film is undoubtedly amusing, even downright hilarious in some parts, but some flaws in the choice of narrative techniques, such as the frequent use of flashbacks that disrupt the story's rhythm and offer nothing truly substantial to the plot, halt the exhilaration that could dominate the audience's reactions to the film under different circumstances. The exuberance experienced by the viewers is derived from the actors' performances, both the leads and the secondary cast, with Rockwell's dull mannerisms and Ronan's truthlike awkwardness and vacillation offering many moments of true splendor. Rockwell is carrying the heavier weight as he plays the detective, the key person in any decent mystery/whodunit tale and his portrayal of Stoppard is inch-perfect in its astuteness.
See How They Run has been, wrongly, labelled by many as the British response to Rian Johnson's 2019 blockbuster crime/comedy movie Knives Out, with the comparison being a bit unfair for Tom George's film. Agreed, both are stylishly shot and funny but the two films diverge in that while Knives Out was solely focused on the intricacy of its main plotline and toyed with the audience's expectations in a manner reminiscent of the best works of the genre, See How They Run is, above all, an attempt to "craft an unexpectedly heartfelt and meta-movie about what it means to tell a story", as Gabriella Geisinger so accurately observes in her review that was published at digitalspy.com on November 2, 2022 ( See How They Run review - more than a British Knives Out (digitalspy.com). A definite plus for the film is the snazzy representation of the 1950s era in London with the vivid colors and the exceptional costumes providing added value to the production. Overall, I would recommend this film to those who love the blending of crime and comedy in a movie, but it will also surely appeal to those who thrive in genre theory and embrace a more academic perceptive on cinema. I think that Tom George's film could have got better reception by the critics as there are many examples of disparagement and harsh assessment circulating in various web reviews concerning, more or less, insubstantial flaws that supposedly tarnish the whole. Anyway, it's up to you and only you to decide if you are willing to take a chance with this one.
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