by Rob Starzec
Today I reached a milestone as a passionate fan of the art of film: I logged my 2,000th filmwatched via my personal profile on Letterboxd! I very well may have already seen more than 2,000 filmsin my lifetime, but there are at least 2,000 movies that I have seen that I know about.
Anyway, film number 2,000 on my Letterboxd account happened to be the recent theatrical release See How They Run, starring Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan as an unlikely set of partners tangled up in a murder investigation (ah yes, the “buddy cop” sub-genre). It is set in 1952 London, and the ensemble cast of suspects happens to be the cast and crew of a popular Agatha Christie
“whodunnit” titled The Mousetrap, as well as a couple of Hollywood executives who are in the process of adapting the play as a feature film.
Right from the start, See How They Run becomes a meta experience for the audience, and the film is sure to remind the viewers in various ways throughout its duration that this is a “whodunnit” about “whodunnits” (a play/movie within a movie? You mean like Shakespeare or Inception?). In fact,one of the funniest jokes in the movie (from the few jokes that actually land) comes from a screenwriter character who claims to hate flashbacks and title cards as they are perceived as lazy storytelling, and then the film delves into those tropes immediately.
As fun as “meta-ness” can be in the current era of film and TV (think Deadpool as well as Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal) its intentions within See How They Run seem to be muddled. The film is constantly referencing Agatha Christie in several different manners. The play being performed is by her, the investigative angle of the movie is paying homage to her, and just when you think that was enough,
the filmmakers made her an actual character in the movie as well! This movie takes constant stabs at its own genre as well, so it is tough to say whether See How They Run should be considered a satire work on the “whodunnit” or simply a love letter to Agatha Christie. My vote goes to satire, because if this was
supposed to be a love letter to Christie, I don’t think much love was actually given to her. Whoops!
Though most of the attempted jokes in the film fall flat, just like they do in most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, Saoirse Ronan gives an outstanding performance as Constable Stalker. Most of the attempted comic relief in the film comes from this character’s mannerisms/lines/loquaciousness, but the fact that the jokes fall flat has nothing to do with the way Ronan plays the character (I blame the awkward writing for the flat jokes to be honest). She may not have had a great script to work with, but Ronan gave 110% just as I have seen her do time and time again; she always devotes herself to her roles. It did throw me off, however, that she technically wasn’t the lead in See How They Run since I am used to seeing her as a star, but she clearly understands the idea of there being no such thing as “small roles.”
On the other hand, Sam Rockwell seems to be horribly miscast as the lead role, Inspector Stoppard. I kept forgetting that this movie was supposed to be set in London, because Rockwell is supposed to be playing a London local, but he gave such little effort in trying to make himself sound British. I’m not sure which accent was lazier – Sandra Bullock’s accent in her Oscar-winning role in The Blind Side (how did that even win?) or Rockwell’s accent in this one. I know the accent is such a small aspect of an acting performance, but he is also supposed to be an alcoholic, and not much effort is given to this aspect of Stoppard’s character either. And this is odd too, because wasn’t he also supposed to be
an alcoholic in his role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri? That’s a performance I can get behind, but for some reason in this “whodunnit” the way they try to pull his character off as an alcoholic is by limiting him to extremely few lines compared to his co-star, making him always trying to take naps
in the car, and sometimes stumbling around like a goof. He probably could have done more with the character if he had as much dialogue written for him as a protagonist of a feature film should typically have. Now, getting into the story aspect or the mystery of the film (don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil anything) they seemed to handle it well in the sense that they didn’t make it easy or obvious who the killer could possibly be. A lot of well-developed motives were set up for each of the suspects, and under questioning by Stoppard and Stalker there were hints of unreliability coming from each suspect as well. I do think, however, that the filmmakers could have gotten the audience a little more invested in the murdered character by making them more relatable, although I suppose this could go against the purpose of the story because as a narrator puts it very early in the film, most “whodunnits” kill off the most “unlikable” character at the start since the suspects need to have believable motives. Who better to kill off than a complete jerk?
Bringing this all back to my general impression of the film, I admittedly did find See How They Run to be a bit bland compared to notable films within its respective genres (mainly “whodunnits” and “buddy cop” films). I think this problem stems from the fact that the movie almost didn’t know what it was trying to be with the way it was written. The attempted comic relief seemed forced (as I mentioned above, think MCU), the “big reveal” didn’t have too much of an impact on me, which also tells me the mystery was not as exciting as it should have been, and it shoved too much Agatha Christie down my throat. Two things I do appreciate from this movie are Saoirse Ronan’s performance, and the meta-style humor coming from the film poking fun at its own genre. Initial
Ranking for 2022 New Releases: 49/56
Rating (out of 5.0 stars): 2 & 1/2