MousetrapsThe famous Agatha Christie murder mystery was never filmed. When Christie signed the film rights to producer John Wolfe, she stipulated that the film could not be made until six months after the play closed in the West End. did not happen. Still going 70 years after it opened in 1952, Mousetraps It is the longest play in history. So the movie never came.
This piece of trivia is the plot point in See how they run, a mini-game of meta unicorns steeped in London theater tradition. It’s also the origin story of the movie itself, if you believe the tale’s producer Damian Jones is on the production notes. Jones had considered filming the play, he says, but when he found out that Christie had thwarted him, he saw a way not only to circumvent this obstacle, but to turn it in his favour: He was determined to create a fictional murder. Around The perpetrators, turning the movie rights into one of the cogs in his killer mechanism.
See how they runWritten by Mark Chappelle and directed by Tom George, it turns Christie upside down, laughing well at the humiliating spectacle this process creates. He makes fun of the squeaking mechanisms of the genre even when he relies on them. It’s a joke movie, and a good movie, energized by a great team. But George and Chappelle are a little infatuated with their own postmodern wit, and not sufficiently interested in building a complex puzzle and satisfying an enigma like, say, honed Rian Johnson. Take out the knives.
The setting is wonderfully sinister, though. mark MousetrapsThe 100th performance—in the real world, now played over 27,500 times—the cast led by Richard “Dickie” Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) gathered at a party. Film producer Wolf (Reece Shearsmith) is there, along with Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody), a distasteful Hollywood director who is blacklisted by Wolff for the production of the theatrical film. Daredevil playwright Mervyn Cocker Norris (David Oyelow) is tasked with adapting the script. Theater singer Petola Spencer (Ruth Wilson) is boiling on the sidelines. Everyone is a little nervous, for different reasons, and Copernic and Attenborough get into a fistfight. At the end of the night, Kaepernick appears dead on stage. Can the show go on?
Looking at production history, there’s mischievous hilarity to this hypothesis – and that’s before the advent of the police. Globally bored alcoholic Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) is paired up with an awkward but excited new Constable (Saoirse Ronan) to solve the case. They get no help, as the rest of the kill squad focuses on the real world, much darker, The Rillington Place murders. Compared to those, this theatrical murder is just a little fun.
The two-sided subtlety and subtlety of these details–emphasizing the absurdity of harmless actions, while rooting them in true time and place–is a hallmark of what See how they run progress, and it is one of the main pleasures of film. It’s more fun guessing which figures are cartoons of real people and which cartoon inventions than trying to figure out who the killer is.
A pair of late-night blockbusters play up this distorted reality for a hilarious, gritty bonus. The production design goes similarly, creating a radiant 1950s London with a surprisingly authentic feel. (Producers’ opportunism strikes again: the movie was shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving production access to some of London’s coolest theaters and hotels for filming, as they were shuttered for closure.)
See how they run It works better as an outright comedy than as a murder mystery, although it doesn’t remove either form. Chappelle’s text is full of delicious criticism, painful puns, and gently ironic characterization. George, the veteran British TV comedy director, knows how to put on and wear gags. But there is a dead rhythm, and sometimes scenes linger for a long time in an airless mist between jokes. Comedy, with its reliance on chemistry between actors, must have been one of the hardest genres to film under pandemic conditions.
Ultimate cast with credit. Ronan, as the charmingly loyal Stalker, executes her comedic chops with impeccable timing and laughs the most without becoming a full-scale character or breaking it. Stoker’s silly naivety begins as a joke – she records anything anyone says, believes the case is closed after each interview – but in Ronan’s hands it becomes an endearing kind of heroism.
Contrasting bright with Rockwell’s faltering voice, the mumbling stopbar is perfectly out of the friendly cop playbook, but Rockwell’s playfully underrated role perfectly complements Ronan. Stoppard just lets the bats all around him shrug his shoulders, which is somewhat funnier for being a straight, sober guy.
Dickinson’s opinion of Attenborough is considered hooliganism, offending a certain kind of absurdity of the gentle and pioneering man. The supporting cast is a killer class of British theater and television professionals: people like Sian Clifford (Fleabag), Lucian Masamati (Game of thrones), Tim Key (Alan Partridge’s various projects), and Shirley Henderson (Harry Potter), who can pull off loving and wild characterizations in a two-line space, and make it look easy.
See how they run She is a lark, a self-referential dispatch of theatrical and cinematic stuntman. The problem, like most larks of their kind, is that they use self-irony as an exit condition. There’s a voiceover from Adrien Brody as Kopernick, the deceased filmmaker, who contemptuously picks out vulgar images and primitive compositions for a genre from Beyond the Grave, moments before it appears on screen. His basic Hollywood instincts are likewise mocked one moment and propagated the next. Having a character point out your film’s flaws doesn’t really excuse them. But it also does not nullify the pleasures of film. See how they run Not as clever as the creators think, nor as dumb as it sometimes pretends. There isn’t much to say about those who know nothing but “wouldn’t it be funny to be in their own world?” And yes, it turns out it will be.
See how they run Opens in theaters September 16th.