See How They Run Movie Review: Delightfully clever and funny nod to Agatha Christie
Unlike the classic noir films whose look and feel it emulates, See How They Run steers clear of making the narrative too confusing
See How They Run has a measure of meticulousness I expect from a period film, especially when it's a whodunit. The Disney+ Hotstar release, which marks the feature debut of Tom George (who has proven his mettle in British television), is adorned by a sophisticated ensemble cast featuring the likes of Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, and David Oyelowo. It's a film with neatly arranged props, and every nook and cranny is decked in warm, inviting colours, enhanced by carefully calibrated lighting.
Director: Tom George
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, David Oyelowo
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Why am I mentioning the technical details first? Because See How They Run is closely associated with storytelling, filmmaking and creative freedom. It's not going for that lived-in look; it wants to look like a painting, with a murder or two thrown in for good measure. Most often, it reminded me of the enveloping ambience of a sitcom. It isn't here to depress. Its design demands our active participation. Even the murder sequence that kicks off the chain of events has a comical quality, just like something from a Tintin adventure.
The film opens in the 1950s, with the crew of Agatha Christie's play The Mousetrap celebrating its 100th run. (It has the distinction of being the longest-running show in London's West End.) We learn a film adaptation is in the offing, to be directed by the unlikeable Leo Copernick (Adrien Brody), who is not on good terms with his writer Mervyn (David Oyelowo). He also happens to be terrible with women -- a prime reason for a fistfight with a young Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), the play's lead actor. So when Copernick is 'offed' by a sinister figure clad in an overcoat and a felt hat, Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan enter the picture as Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker, respectively.
It's then the film takes on the nature of a buddy comedy, although not one that constantly relies on gags. It's more about the camaraderie between two individuals with opposite personalities who are unlikely to bond had circumstances been different. Stalker is the chatterbox who is always eager to jump to conclusions. Stoppard is the drunk who is more Watson than Sherlock Holmes. I say this given his background -- he was in the army, which explains his limp. And he seems perpetually drunk, which may have to do with a small piece of personal information revealed during a quiet moment between the two. The details hold a special significance as the film approaches its third act.
Unlike the classic noir films whose look and feel it emulates, See How They Run steers clear of making the narrative too confusing, a characteristic of even the most acclaimed mysteries of the 40s and 50s. We get a clear sense of all the possibilities explored through the duo's investigation, including a central character's background subjected to scrutiny.
Some delightfully clever cinematic devices in the third act should excite hardcore cinephiles. I smiled widely at a homage to Stanley Kubrick's The Shining in a dream sequence, for instance; or a hilarious climactic development that would've felt right at home in a Quentin Tarantino film (minus the gore), or a nod to Agatha's own And Then There Were None.