The Plot: The West End, 1953. The Mousetrap has become something of a hit. Bigshot Hollywood director Leo (Adrien Brody) is in town to adapt the play into a film, though he wants to take some liberties and make it more action-oriented. He gets some action allright when he ends up dead in the very theatre staging the show. World-weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) is dispatched to investigate. He’s teamed up with eager Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan), who is prone to jumping to conclusions. As they dig deeper into the murder investigation, they interrogate the actors including Mervyn (David Oyelowo) and one Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson). The game is afoot…
The Verdict: The venerable whodunit is given a theatrical spin with period piece See How They Run. It takes place within the 1950s theatre world of insecure actors, overconfident film industry people and the two decent coppers caught up in the murder most foul shenanigans. It’s even a bit meta, directly referencing the most famous theatrical whodunit of them all. Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is celebrating its 70th anniversary (it’s also coming to the Gaiety Theatre in October). It’s the focal point of the investigation into an actual murder, as the coppers unravel a tangled web of intrigue and figure out just whodunit and why. It sounds like a very appealing prospect for a film: luvvie period actors lording it over their theatrical environment; suspects being gathered in a country mansion; the amusing interplay between a less-than-enthusiastic inspector and his observant rottweiler of a constable. It’s a shame then that the murder by numbers don’t add up.
Somewhere in the script by Mark Chappell, there was a lively, light-footed but dark-tinged take on the whodunit. The kind of film that would go well in a madcap double bill with the hilarious Clue, which memorably featured a livewire Tim Curry. There are hints of it throughout See How They Run, but they remain fleeting at best. A cameo from a certain someone armed with arsenic and a shovel is a good example, but first time feature director doesn’t quite know what to do with all these disparate elements. The main part is the investigation by Stoppard and Stalker and that element at least has focus and direction. Rockwell and Ronan make a great double act, his seen-it-all hangdog expression playing off brilliantly against Ronan’s youthful enthusiasm (and lilting Carlow accent) to find the culprit and cuff him/her/them. It’s a delight watching these two actors scarper about, putting the clues together and coming up with a workable murder theory.
The supporting characters flit in and out of the story, but are not developed enough to come across as anything other than lifesize cardboard cutouts – the kind with a bullseye target on them. As Mervyn soon realises, his fellow actors are suspects and potential victims too. There are overlong digressions that don’t serve the script well or go anywhere in particular (e.g the jail scene), reducing the roles of the supporting characters to the point where it becomes frustrating. To understand motivations, the audience needs to understand the suspects and just what they might be hiding. There’s little attempt to explore that. The actors involved are criminally under-used as a result. You don’t cast the excellent Ruth Wilson and give her just a handful of lines. The film runs out of plot soon enough, sputtering to a limp conclusion that otherwise suggests it might be better off as a TV show called Stoppard & Stalker. Watch out London criminals – they’re on the case and coming for you. See How They Run should be a better film, but it never really works as a satisfying whole. There’s little to see here other than the sparkling cyanide chemistry between Rockwell and Ronan, working overtime to compensate for the film’s all-too-obvious shortcomings.
Rating: 2 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
See How They Run
Runs out of plot
See How They Run (USA / 12A / 98 mins)
In short: Runs out of plot
Directed by Tom George.
Starring Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo, Harris Dickinson, Ruth Wilson.