See How They Run–Agatha Christie mystery mayhem done right

Review by C.J. Bunce

Adaptations of Agatha Christie mysteries are a mixed bag, lately with film and television directors trying to modernize or darken her cozy mysteries.  Her play Three Blind Mice aka The Mousetrap was staged in London’s West End in 1952 and ran continuously until the COVID pandemic.  It carried the proviso that no one could make a film depiction until it no longer ran as the West End play for at least six months–in order to keep the whodunnit secret for new crowds.  That real-life twist is the starting point of an expertly written and delivered new film, See How They Run, arriving this week on HBO Max after a theatrical release only two weeks ago.  Nero Wolfe meets Muppets Most Wanted in a quick-paced and clever mystery full of madcap mayhem.

Adrien Brody plays a Hollywood director who also narrates the story using his best Jack Nicholson in Chinatown impression.  Writer Mark Chappell plays with all the classic Christie and other mystery tropes, from the introduction of the suspects to multiple murders to the big reveal of the murderer at a country estate at film’s end.  And the most unlikeable character is the victim.

Chappell uses real-life situations and people for his fictionalized yet gleefully “meta” caper.  It’s set in 1953 at the celebration of the 100th performance of The Mousetrap in West End.  After the performance that requisite unlikeable character is snuffed out, and Scotland Yard is called to the case.  Saoirse Ronan co-stars as Constable Stalker, an eager-beaver rookie who jumps to conclusions at every turn, cramping the style of experienced Inspector Stoppard, played by Sam Rockwell in full noir mode.

Ronan is brilliant, handling the snappy dialogue and the nearly non-stop word jokes like a young Emma Thompson.  The comedic rhythm feels a bit like Spies Like Us at times, and Constable Stalker’s drive and determination evoke the endearing sincerity of Frances McDormand’s atypical sheriff in Fargo.  Rockwell brings his all as the stereotypical 1950s movie put-upon, distracted, alcoholic investigator.  The young Constable keeps the old Inspector on his toes.  Both work under the familiar demanding Commissioner Who Needs Answers Yesterday, played by Tim Key.

Suspects tied to the production include characters played by Ruth Wilson, David Oyelowo, Reece Shearsmith, Sian Clifford, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd, Pippa Bennett-Warner, and Ania Marson, with Harris Dickinson as actor Richard Attenborough and Shirley Henderson as Agatha Christie.  It’s more fun–and director Tom George delivers a better caper–than Kenneth Branagh’s Christie films, Fargo, and the entire slew of recent British TV adaptations with the exception of this year’s amazing Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? from Hugh Laurie (reviewed here).  It succeeds in many ways where Knives Out and John Landis’s classic Clue movie came up short.

The look of the film calls back to the stylish A Nero Wolfe Mystery series, and Daniel Pemberton’s (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Enola Holmes) rollicking musical score is a triumph for the mystery genre, and should be an Academy Award selection.

Witty comedic writing and a mystery audiences can play along with, See How They Run is streaming now on HBO Max, also available on Digital here at Amazon.

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