‘See How They Run:’ Harmless fun with a deadly twist

Agatha Christie is currently the it girl of the Hollywood script.

The iconic novelist’s literary capital has, in recent years, taken on a life of its own on the big screen. The Agatha Christie-verse has been racking in high box office numbers with faithful adaptations of her novels, like Kenneth Branaugh’s 2017 and 2022 films “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile,” or with love letters to her work like Rian Johnson’s hit film-turned-franchise “Knives Out.” 

“See How They Run” is the newest addition to the serial lineup of mystery flicks hitting theaters in light of the Christie cinematic renaissance. In a solid directorial debut, British television native Tom George rounds up an ensemble of critically acclaimed thespian actors, led by duo Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, and stages them in a nostalgia-enhanced whodunnit spectacle set in London’s West End theater district in the 1950s. When sleazy Hollywood producer Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody), is murdered backstage in the theater housing the play he hopes to produce for the screen, “The Mousetrap,” based on the work of, you guessed it, Agatha Christie, Inspector Stoppard, played by Rockwell, is recruited to take on the case with the unwelcomed help of the film-obsessed amateur cop Constable Stalker, played by Ronan.

While the demise of Brody’s character takes center stage in the story, the ghost of another Hollywood director haunts the screen. It very well may be that Wes Anderson is the real murder victim of “See How They Run,” with split frames and quirky editing to Technicolor costumes and stock characters plucked straight out of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” being the film’s main attraction. Even a cast of Anderson regulars take top credits on the billing and are up to their usual eccentric quirkiness.

Ronan gave a standout comedic performance as the earnest self-deprecating cop in training that once again proves the versatility of the four-time Academy Award nominee. Rockwell does good with what he is given, his sleuth character not necessarily upstaging Ronan’s despite having the upper hand in their professional nose-sniffing, but the two actors do share a sweet chemistry. David Oyelowo as Mervyn, Köpernick’s screenwriting nemesis over creative differences, is a dapper addition to the ensemble of BAFTA favorites — and like many of the actors, he’s obviously having a good time being there.

“See How They Run” directly speaks to lovers of the whodunnit film, literally addressing its audience in the prologue to make sure they, in fact, are aware that they are seated to witness yet another murder mystery unfold. “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” is the repeated line directed towards the story’s plot centerpiece, “The Mousetrap,” but in a meta fashion, the film carries an attitude of self-awareness that continuously winks towards its audience. 

Very much so, “See How They Run” is another murder mystery to hit screens, but it’s still a thrilling ride. It occasionally gets lost in its twists and turns along the way, but it pieces together its puzzle with a satisfying finale. With its quick and easy runtime of 98 minutes, the film rarely drags, striking a balance between a sit-back-in-your-seat viewing experience whilst keeping you on your toes. There’s a reason why Christie’s books made her the best-selling novelist of all time: the formula works.

“See How They Run” is by no means original, nor does it evolve the genre in as clever a fashion as “Knives Out” did, but it never tries to be anything else than what it is: a murder mystery. It delivers an array of finger-pointing moments a la Leonardo Dicaprio in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” style. Mystery lovers and Christie admirers will be satisfied by the film’s indulgence in whodunnit conventions. Unintentionally for cinephiles, they could very well be thrilled at the abundance of Anderson-isms, either happily spewing out film knowledge like Constable Stalker or leaving the theater fuming that George was able to steal the director’s signature style and get away with petty crime. If you identify with one, two or none of these identities as an audience member, you are guaranteed to flash a finger at the screen at one point. “See How They Run” is a solid viewing experience and a fun time at the movies, and that is all it needs to be.