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. (from IMDB)
The murder mystery has been a staple in Hollywood since practically its inception. But in recent years, with Knives Out as a good example, there’s been more of a lean towards parodying the genre. The aforementioned Rian Johnson-directed “whodunnit?” was so well received, it has a sequel debuting this month on Netflix (with a short one-week run in theaters). So it seemed entirely no surprise to find a film like See How They Run sneaking its way into cinemas in the final days of this past summer.
See How They Run feels like a cross between Hail, Caesar! and Knives Out in the way that it comically pays homage to the murder mystery genre (Knives Out) while also being a period film that honors the classic plays and films of the golden age of cinema (Hail, Caesar!). In fact, See How They Run doesn’t shy away from its Agatha Christie mystery homage by actually basing the film in 1953 London where a play, based on the work of Agatha Christie, is taking audiences by storm. The film is as much a comedy as it is a murder mystery, though its comedic flavor is more subtle and nuanced than plain over-the-top. The movie hardly takes itself too seriously, and makes it a point to nudge-and-wink at the audience from start to finish.
Sam Rockwell plays Inspector Stoppard, a clever detective who struggles with life post-war and uses drinking to numb his pain. Upon the murder of an American film director, he’s called onto the scene and paired with the exceptionally green Constable Stalker, played by Saoirse Ronan, who is just starting to learn the ropes as a detective. The unlikely duo is an endearing match, and Rockwell and Ronan have great chemistry together (even when Rockwell’s Stoppard doesn’t seem to want to be wherever he is at any given moment). The supporting cast is just as talented, including a flamboyant performance from David Oyelowo, a slimey one from Adrien Brody, and an amusingly clueless one from Harris Dickinson. See How They Run is just a fun outing.
But while I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, it definitely feels like it falls short of being something great. Calling back yet again to Knives Out, that film not only had a stellar cast, but it was especially memorable with its performances and plot twists and turns. Johnson’s effort followed Ana de Armas’ character who was also a suspect in the film’s main murder, and Johnson told a lot of the backstory in flashbacks. Director Tom George does some of that here in See How They Run, but it’s done in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, poking fun at the tropes of the genre, instead of using it just to the benefit of the story. It does work, don’t get me wrong, and that technique itself is amusing, but the end result is far less effective than Johnson’s film (and I’m really curious how the first Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion, will compare). I love Rockwell’s Stoppard character, but his broken nature makes him tougher to connect with as an audience member, with Ronan’s Constable Stalker being far more relatable. I can’t say for sure if that is one of the drawbacks to this particular tale, or it’s just the overall script or direction of it. But in the end, as enjoyable as See How They Run is, it won’t be one that viewers will be talking about as much or as often as a film like Knives Out.
The content for See How They Run is a rather light PG-13. There is some language, some blood and a couple murders, but it really isn’t worse than any given murder mystery show on TV. There are a couple uses of the “S” word, as well as a few uses of blasphemy, but the profanity is rather infrequent. There isn’t any blatant sexual content, but some talk of marital affairs and a lewd remark or two from Brody’s character. Finally, the violence is seldom graphic, but we do see a few dead bodies with their eyes hauntingly still open, and one that is particularly bloody with some blood on their head, face, and mouth, as well as all down the front of their shirt. It’s also suggested that the victim’s tongue had been “ripped out” and we get a quick peek into their mouth while at the crime scene. Later in the film, some characters are shot, with a small bloody bullet hole on a person’s clothing as they’re hit, and a spray of blood when their leg is hit. We also see some blood on a person’s clothing and on another’s hands afterwards.
I did catch See How They Run in the theaters in September, and watched it again last night in digital 4K, and I still enjoyed the movie as much as I did the first time (if not a little more so). The characters are entertaining and fun, the storytelling creative, and the set pieces beautiful, but I still can’t shake the feeling that it is just missing a special something to make it truly memorable. If you’re a fan of the “whodunnit?” genre, any of the recent Kenneth-Branaugh-led Hercule Poirot mysteries, or Johnson’s Knives Out, you will probably want to check out See How They Run.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 11/2/22)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
See How They Run is now available via digital retailers. Along with the feature film, the iTunes digital copy of See How They Run includes the following extra:
See How They Run Behind the Curtain (25:48) – This is the only extra feature included, but it’s a good one. The production for See How They Run began development just before the pandemic hit, but the delays actually helped them to have more time for the project. The filmmakers and cast talk here about how the film plays with the genre and is even “meta” in how it references itself. (Like how things you see during the stage play in the movie are sprinkled throughout other rooms in the film, like during the finale). The featurette focuses on the relationship between Stoppard and Stalker, as well as Rockwell and Ronan. They then cover the 50’s setting, how color is used, designing sets, the characters’ wardrobe, etc. Several of the cast and crew reflect on what it was like to work during the pandemic, and how good it was to get back to work again after the lockdowns. They also talk about how the pandemic actually helped gain them access to places that would usually be too busy to shoot in, but they were able to use because of them being shutdown — like the Savoy. (2 “b*stard” and 1 “g*dd*mn” from clips of the movie, and 1 “Oh my G-d”)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/2/22)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: In his narration, Leo says “The women go wild for an American accent and a promise of a pair of nylons”; Leo makes a lewd remark about being a “silver tongue” to a woman and suggestively moves his tongue; The constaple find’s women’s stockings in the victim’s drawer, which the inspector tells her to leave alone (hinting at the victim’s promiscuity); As Leo flips through storyboards, we briefly see drawing of a mostly nude woman from behind where we see her bare butt. He apologizes and removes the drawing (played for laughs); We learn of a man cheating on his wife; A man kisses his mistress sitting on his lap. His wife walks in and he drops his mistress to the floor; We see a man with no pants in his briefs in two scenes back-to-back; We hear about how a man’s wife cheated on him; A couple women show a little cleavage in their dresses.
Vulgarity/Language: 2 “S” words (with possibly a third), 2 “g*dd*mn,” 2 “Oh my G-d,” 3 “Oh G-d,” 1 “By G-d,” 3 “Good G-d,” 1 “What in G-d’s name,” 1 “For G-d’s sake,” 4 “h*ll,” 2 “a” words, 2 “b*stard,” 1 “Good L-rd,” 2 “bloody”
Alcohol/Drugs: Characters drink throughout the entire film, with Inspector Stoppard frequently drinking to excess; We see people drinking at a theater after party; The inspector finds alcohol bottles all over the victim’s hotel room; We see the inspector going into a bar to have a drink, and then see him throwing back a drink quickly; We see a man drinking a martini in a bar; We see the inspector drinking at home; Some people pop a bottle of champagne in an office and pour some; We see the constable and inspector drinking together in a bar (although we do not know what exactly she is drinking); A very drunk inspector Stoppard stumbles into the street and then slides down a wall; We see a bar tender mixing and pouring drinks; A lot of people are drinking at a dinner party; We see a bottle of alcohol with a lit rag.
Blood/Gore: A man is hit in the head with a wooden ski and we see a little blood on their forehead; We see blood on a murder victim’s head and coming from his mouth and all over his shirt. His eyes are left wide open. We hear that his tongue was apparently ripped out and we briefly kind of see it when the inspector uses a pen to open his mouth a little; A person is shot twice with some blood on their clothed abdomen, a little blood splatter as they are hit in the leg; We see blood on a person’s hand and blood on another person’s shirt.
Violence: A man is startled by a mouse and stumbles into someone who steps under a sandbag backstage in a theater, which falls and presumably hits him in the head when the screen goes black (we later see them with a small bandaid on their head); A man tackles another man into a large cake (which we see in flashback a couple more times later); A dark figure hits a man in the head with a wooden ski then throws him over a table. The victim throws found objects on the floor at the attacker (like a vase) and then the attacker tries to strangle him with a wire. The victim grabs a pair of pliers off the floor and cuts the wire around his throat, getting free. He’s then backed into a corner and hit over the head and killed with a sewing machine (the screen goes black as it moves toward his face); We see blood on a murder victim’s head and coming from his mouth and all over his shirt. His eyes are left wide open. We hear that his tongue was apparently ripped out and we briefly kind of see it when the inspector uses a pen to open his mouth a little; Two men struggle over a packet of papers and it rips sending one backwards into a lamp; We see hand-drawn storyboards of a person being shot, a hostage taken and a person getting shot and dying; A man kisses his mistress sitting on his lap. His wife walks in and he drops his mistress to the floor; A very drunk inspector Stoppard stumbles into the street and then slides down a wall; A man strangles another man in real life while a woman is simultaneously pretending to get strangled in a play. We see the dead victim with his eyes wide open; The constable tackles a man and then hits him in the head with a shovel; In a nightmare, we see a dead man lying on a table dead with straw in his back being picked out by a dark figure; A group of people are held at gunpoint; We see flashbacks to several instances of the previous acts of violence; A poisoned man falls over; A man is hit in the face with a butt of a rifle; A woman is held hostage at gunpoint; A bottle of alcohol with a lit rag is thrown causing a fire in the room; A person is shot twice with some blood on their clothed abdomen, a little blood splatter as they are hit in the leg; A woman tackles a man as a gun goes off; A woman hits a man with a shovel and almost stabs him with it before she is stopped; We see a dead man sitting on a sofa with his eyes open.