When Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody), a major Hollywood director who is set to adapt the mega-popular stage show, the Mousetrap, is murdered at the after-party of a rehearsal of that very play, it's up to Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to solve his murder before the show goes on and the clues go cold. The suspects? More than a dozen people at the theatre and beyond who had run-ins with the notoriously difficult director.
It's been something of a treat to see the classic whodunit make such a solid return in the wake of 2019's big sleeper hit, Knives Out – though it's rather less of a treat that so many of them, including the Knives Out sequel, Glass Onion, are going straight to streaming here and only getting the most limited of theatrical runs in the US and Europe. See How They Run came close to getting released in cinemas here, presumably, as I actually saw advertising for it at my local cinemas, but nope, for some reason, it has gone straight to Disney+ instead.
Incidentally, and this is a side issue, one has to wonder if the reinstatement of Disney CEO Bob Iger has something to do with his successor, Bob Chapek, leaving money on the table by sacrificing profitable cinema releases of some fairly big films as a way to push the often struggling Disney+ service. Frankly, I can't imagine how giving their bigger films cinema releases along with their stream debut wouldn't be profitable for companies like Disney and Netflix. But then, I'm no numbers guy, so what do I know?
Either way, like so many of its contemporary whodunits, See How They Run is a slick affair with an all-star cast and is an all-but-guaranteed crowd-pleaser. If you scrolled past it while looking for what to watch on Disney+'s still less-than-wonderful South African app, go back and give it a watch.
Unlike Kenneth Branagh's Agatha Christie adaptations or Knives Out, however, See How They Run is much more overtly comedic. It's also somewhat less interested in – and less successful with – the murder mystery at its core than in the relationship between our two detective heroes (or are they), played so gamely by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, and in the eccentric cast of suspects. And, as it turns out, that's no bad thing.
Whether or not it was already there in Mark Chappell's original script, the film owes a gigantic debt to Wes Anderson, with both the cast and Tom George's direction seeming to have walked straight off the set of The French Dispatch. And, in the case of Rockwell, Ronan, and Brody, that's almost literally the case! It's not quite as symmetrical, quirky, weirdly emotional or as, well, utterly brilliant as Anderson at his best, but George, who has mostly worked as a director on Brit TV shows and live events, is clearly a huge fan and not only does See How They Run feature plenty of the same hilariously quirky, deadpan humour, but many individual shots and the film's tone, in general, are gleefully cribbed from latter-day Wes Anderson.
Such blatant copying of so distinct a directorial style should, by all rights, sink See How They Run, but it is done so well and with just enough of its own flare that it's hard to really hold it against it. Frankly, as a gigantic Wes Anderson fan, evocations of the French Dispatch or the Grand Budapest Hotel only made me enjoy the film more.
The film is also - to use the dreaded phrase - post-modern, from top to bottom. It is, after all, a film about the murder of a director in an attempted film adaptation of a real-life stage play about a murder that was written by the doyen of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie. But, even if I'm sure the experience is further enhanced if you're actually familiar with the plot of the Mousetrap (and I'm not) despite the successful film adaptation(s?) and it being one of the longest-running stage shows in history, See How They Run never feels overly meta or self-indulgent. It's much too charming for that.
And at the heart of all that, really, is Saoirse Ronan. In a cast full of brilliant actors, including David Oyelowo, Ruth Wilson, Fleabag's Sian Clifford, the ubiquitous Harris Dickinson as no less than Richard Attenborough, and, of course, the always great Sam Rockwell, who this time comes equipped with a pretty damn decent English accent, none shine as brightly as Ronan, who, even by her super delightful standards, is beyond wonderful here.
And it's not just because, unlike in most of her films, she gets to break out her Irish accent – which is one of the top two or three coolest accents on the planet.
As the incredibly diligent and eager Constable Stalker (the film's name game is very much on point, clearly), Ronan brings every ounce of her natural likeability and charisma to bear on a character who completely wins you over after about 5 seconds in their company. And, considering how often she absolutely kills it in very dramatic roles, it's especially a pleasure to see her flex her comic chops – and boy, does she flex them. She has moments in the film that easily rank among the funniest movie scenes from the past year – and probably a whole lot longer.
I'm clearly a gigantic fan, but to be very clear, whatever may not work about the film (its debt to better filmmakers, total lack of substance, weak central mystery) is entirely redressed by Saoirse Ronan's impeccable work here, and whatever already does work is only amplified by her presence. Without her, it's a fun if inessential and inconsequential bit of Sunday afternoon fluff. With her, though, it's a total must-see.
Cast: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Ruth Wilson, Reece Shearsmith, Harris Dickinson, David Oyelowo
Our rating: 4/5 Stars
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: