By Esia Forsyth, Third Year, English
Following the unbridled success of Knives Out (2019), the murder mystery genre has undergone a huge resurgence of interest. Latest in the recent wave of star-studded crime films, See How They Run is set in the West End of the 1950s, where plans for a motion picture based upon Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, are derailed after a member of the crew is murdered. Saoirse Ronan and Sam Rockwell appear as police officers who must unravel this knotty mystery, that’s as much an ode to whodunits as a tongue-in-cheek indictment of them.
With a touch of noir, a fair helping of self-awareness and an abundance of fedoras, the well-tracked tropes of murder mystery are laid bare for the audience to closely inspect. ‘It’s a whodunit’, our narrator (Adrien Brody) comments at one point, ‘If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all’.
Clad in glamorous outfits, Reece Shearsmith, Ruth Wilson and Harris Dickinson are along for the ride as career-driven egotists. From David Oyelowo, we see a standout performance whose character of Mervyn Cocker-Norris, an insufferable and melodramatic screenwriter, is a far cry from his rise to prominence portraying Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma (2014). Though this biographical piece may have earned him critical acclaim, Oyelowo’s move into a more comedic role here is a true testament to his range.
Director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell delve deeply into the time period’s stereotypes with an abundance of cars, furs and vintage police etiquette. ‘Constable’, Rockwell says to Ronan, ‘Inspector’, Ronan replies before acknowledging Tim Key with a polite ‘Commissioner’, this echo chamber repeating approximately 200 times.
The film luxuriates in the habit of commenting upon its own conventions: we are introduced to flashbacks with a narrative scathing of the device, alongside macabre storyboards that clearly depict action to follow. Somewhere in the film, there is an indictment of Hollywood, but it seems as ineffectual a weapon as the fake guns Rockwell accidentally picks up backstage.
As the riff upon Christie’s work develops, however, it begins to serve up a compelling murder mystery in its own right. Despite the eye-rolling reminders that we have, in fact, seen this plot line all too often, one cannot help but get invested in moments of genuine intrigue. Surprisingly (or perhaps predictably), the audience is kept somewhat on their toes.
Ronan’s earnestness and penchant for jumping to conclusions create an entertaining dynamic with Rockwell’s sombre world-weariness, the duo’s chemistry really making the script sing. Not relying upon blood, guts or gore to make a statement, it is a welcome detour away from the usual intense Halloween offerings that make their autumn appearances.
Though See How They Run's self-awareness, at times, verges upon self-indulgence or smugness, the classic entertainment of murder intrigue set beneath a rich glowing colour palette of West End London is impossible not to adore.
Featured image: IMDB
Will you be delving into this mystery?