Movie Review: ‘See How They Run’ Keeps You Guessing, But Breaks No New Ground
Director: Tom George
Writer: Mark Chappell
Stars: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody
Synopsis: In the West End of 1950s London, plans for a movie version of a smash-hit play come to an abrupt halt after a pivotal member of the crew is murdered.
To reference the queen of the genre in your whodunnit is a bold move. To aim some gentle criticism at her longest running play is only advisable if your whodunit is truly something new and different. While director Tom George and his players give it a shot, See How They Run isn’t a spectacular masterpiece of the craft. It is a witty farce, though.
Writer Mark Chappell’s script is whip smart. It crackles with incredible puns, one liners, asides, and banter. There are layers of depth to every character and an engaging plot. There are times it gives a red herring where there didn’t need to be one, like the idea that while Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) are chasing their murderer, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Even the red herrings for the case can be explained away far too easily so that when they make a reappearance, it’s a bit of an eye roll. But the script especially sings when featuring the relationship between Stoppard and Stalker.
That is due in large part to the incomparable talents of Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell. Ronan especially has an incredible command of timing in her scenes. She imbues Stalker with a wide-eyed, but not completely naïve, presence and a willingness to jump into a situation despite not being entirely sure of the outcome. It’s a great compliment to Rockwell’s world weary detective who is very good at what he does, but can’t stand the idea of living with it any longer. Rockwell’s accent goes in and out, but his grace of movement in his character’s drunkenness is superb and charming.
That’s really what See How They Run is. It’s a charming film. Director Tom George and editors Gary Dollner and Peter Lambert even create some intriguing split screen actions. They employ this in order to move a piece of story along, to show two sides of the same conversation, or to show a simultaneous action that may be matched if it is a similar situation. It’s a great technique to employ in a movie like this.
The cinematography by Jamie Ramsay is also top notch. He em
ploys a lot of different tricks to keep us guessing like high angles, dolly shots, and a bit of tilt shift for the car scenes. One of the best shots, though, is one of the simplest. Because it is late in the film, the plot points discussed will be limited. The shot is a medium one of two people on a couch. One person is distracting the other so that another of the group can sneak closer and get the gun away from that person. While the two people talk, a hand slowly emerges from screen left. It doesn’t stop or slow, but just agonizingly creeps forward. It’s a terrifically funny scene and a brilliant use of space within the frame.
It’s hard to pull off a great whodunit. While See How They Run doesn’t quite accomplish this,, it’s at least a very fun whodunit that also plays with the style of the form and adds in elements to stay engaging as the investigators attempt to solve the case. See How They Run doesn’t have the bite or the beautifully complicated nature of a Knives Out, but it will certainly do until the next installment of that series gets here.