See How They Run Review: A Breezy, Winking Caper That Knows What It Owes To Whodunits Before

Agatha Christie may have been the best and worst thing to happen to whodunits. Her works were the blueprint for the crime genre — so much so that her name has become synonymous with that particular brand of detective fiction. But we've come to the point as readers, and audiences, that we know what to expect in an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery: The murder is committed, the suspects are gathered, and the eccentric detective slowly pieces together the clues. So in the age of the post-"Knives Out," post-post Agatha Christie era, how does one put a fresh twist on the whodunit? Well, by killing Agatha Christie.

No, that's not exactly what happens in "See How They Run," the twisty, breezy caper directed by Tom George and written by Mark Chappell. But the latest whodunit knows exactly how much it owes to the celebrated author, and as such, props Agatha Christie up as an idol to be revered, an institution that must be broken, and most inspired of all, an actual character within the film. As to whether her character dies in the film? Well, you'll have to watch to find out.

The mystery unfolds, familiarly

Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell are our intrepid detectives on the case in "See How They Run," which begins with the murder of Adrien Brody's Leo Köpernick, a notoriously hated film director visiting London in the 1950s who has been hired to turn the Agatha Christie play "The Mousetrap" into a Hollywood production. The suspects? The actors, the writers, the producers, and everyone involved in the play, of course. But wait, perhaps Rockwell's tormented Inspector Stoppard has something to do with it. And what does a mysterious dinner invitation from the reclusive Agatha Christie herself have to do with it all? Oh, if only Ronan's overeager Constable Stalker would stop jumping to conclusions!

We've seen this before — now it's just a matter of seeing how it unfolds. And while this kind of predictable formula is cozy enough, "See How They Run" aspires to keep us on our toes by poking at the borders of that formula and winking at the audience. "If you've seen one whodunit, you've seen them all," Brody's Köpernick dryly comments to the audience, before he meets his violent, bloody death.

If you've read any Agatha Christie, you've certainly seen parts of this movie before. "See How They Run" intentionally folds in elements of Christie's "The Mousetrap" into the film — from suspects, to plot twists, to the real-life case that the play was based on — as well as the character archetypes that the author so dearly loves. There's the narcissistic lead actor (Harris Dickinson, having a blast playing pig-headed), the stubborn screenwriter (David Oyelowo, foppish and fantastic), the moneyed theatre manager (Ruth Wilson, fierce but given little to do), the beleaguered producer (Reece Shearsmith, appropriately beleaguered), the paranoid producer's wife (Sian Clifford, a hilarious scene-stealer), and many a scorned lover or butler or concierge. But unsurprisingly it's Ronan and Rockwell who run away with the movie.

Ronan lends a do-gooder gumption to a character that ultimately fails to fly off the page, despite her best efforts and funniest clipped line deliveries. Rockwell, however, manages to lend some depth to his world-weary, alcoholic detective, sporting an impressive British accent that he hides with slurred mumbles and a sad, downcast expression. Together, they're a delight to watch, even as the film occasionally trips over itself getting them through its many twists.

Whodunit before?

"See How They Run" is a stylishly directed romp that owes as much to Rian Johnson as it does to Christie — particularly in its bright, saturated hyperrealism, and the agile way the camera moves or director Tom George (who, like writer Mark Chappell, makes his feature debut after working primarily in BBC TV productions) plays with camera placement. There are many bird's eye view shots, whip pans, and split screens, which help enliven a rather by-the-numbers plot. This does not feel like a BBC production — it feels like George and Chappell are playing at being Rian Johnson-lite, which is not a bad thing, necessarily. Instead, it feels comforting when Brody's dry, growly narration as the dead Köpernick calls to mind his work with Johnson in "The Brothers Bloom," or when a particularly satisfying Rube Goldbergian chain of events goes off in a way that recalls Wes Anderson — this is a movie powered by association. Not just the association of the film's many A-list stars to the celebrated filmmakers they've worked with, but the association to the whodunit genre, which "See How They Run" frequently lampshades.

There's a clear meta-narrative at work, with the film's central murder taking place on the stage of an Agatha Christie play, during a party celebrating a coming film adaptation, with all the cast members, the film team, and the theater owners becoming prime suspects — and excitedly participating in this real-life whodunit. The characters, thankfully, don't call too much attention to the formula (that would tip the film's generally charming attitude into grating), but it does brush up against satire enough that you start to wonder whether "See How They Run" is one. The only problem is, if "See How They Run" is a satire, it doesn't have much to say. Simply winking at the audience and pushing up against the fourth wall does not a satire make — though the film never does claim to be one. Instead, it plays out like an extremely self-aware love letter, one that threatens to kill Agatha Christie, but instead knocks her out and wraps her up in a warm blanket.

Is it exceptionally groundbreaking? No. But it's fun, and frothy, and clever enough that it makes for an easygoing hour and a half watch. Plus, you have to find out if they kill Agatha Christie.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10