While fans of the murder mystery genre count the weeks until the release of ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,’ the eagerly anticipated sequel to 2019’s twisty, sharply funny ‘Knives Out,’ they can take the edge off their appetite with ‘See How They Run.’
Starring Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan as a pair of odd-couple Scotland Yard officers investigating a theatre-world murder in 1950s London, this larky meta-whodunit both subverts and pays homage to ‘The Mousetrap,’ Agatha Christie’s famously long-running play. After opening in London’s West End in 1952, ‘Mousetrap’ has been running continuously — except for a pandemic-induced break — for more than 28,000 performances.
The popular show has, almost as infamously, never been made into a movie. Hold that thought. It figures somewhat prominently here, and for reasons other than the fact that you can’t stream it on Amazon before watching ‘See How They Run.’ Though after seeing the new movie, you may want to.
As ‘See How They Run’ gets underway, the ‘Mousetrap’ cast and crew — which, in a nod to verisimilitude, includes characters based on ‘Mousetrap’ stars Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) and his wife, Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda) — are celebrating the show’s 100th performance. An obnoxious but entirely fictional Hollywood director named Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) is in town to discuss a film adaptation with the British movie producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) and would-be screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), when Leo turns up dead. Woolf, like several other characters in ‘Run,’ is based on a real person; Cocker-Norris, whom Oyelowo renders with an amusingly priggish persnickety-ness, is not.
“Life imitates art,” reads a headline in a newspaper. But in some ways, ‘See How They Run’ is a case of art imitating life.
In reality, death isn’t why the play was never adapted for the screen; there’s a far more fascinating explanation, which I’ll leave for ‘See How They Run’ director Tom George and writer Mark Chappell to reveal, in one of the film’s deliciously ironic twists.
Called onto the case are Rockwell’s jaded, slightly boozy Inspector Stoppard and Ronan’s aptly named Constable Stalker, a dogged if untested police rookie who writes down everything she observes in her notebook — including this advice from the more experienced Stoppard: “Do not jump to conclusions.”
Stoppard’s name echoes the playwright Tom Stoppard, whose one-act play ‘The Real Inspector Hound,’ like this film, parodies the cliches of a ‘Mousetrap’-style stage mystery.
To that end, ‘Run’ includes several suspects, all of whom have legitimate motives to do Leo in, including creative differences and secrets they’d rather keep hidden. It helps that this victim was widely disliked. It also helps the multilayered nature of this very loosely fact-adjacent film that the backstory of ‘The Mousetrap’ itself is loosely based on true events. That’s another thought to hold in the back of your mind while watching the film, which is, true to form, larded with flashbacks and the occasional on-screen title detailing the passage of time.
And yet “do not jump to conclusions” is pretty good advice for audiences, too, as the red herrings pile up in ‘See How They Run.’ The colourful characters of Stoppard and Stalker loom large here, as detectives so often do — Hercule Poirot, Jane Marple — in such fare. But even larger is the shadow cast by Christie’s 1952 play, which provides a fun backdrop, if one rendered irreverently, for this diverting puzzle within a puzzle.
“It’s just like one of [Christie’s] confections!” observes one character with seeming delight, as the film heads toward its antic climax. Maybe not just like, but close enough.
Don’t miss it!
‘See How They Run’ is out now in UAE cinemas.