See How They Run (dir. Tom George): Film Review

“You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” is the self-aware line at the start of See how they work, a comically-toned retro murder mystery that knows you’ve seen other thrillers. British TV director Tom George makes his feature film debut with a bubbly, clever script from Mark Chappell (TV’s flakes), and while the meta-context is pushed pretty hard out the door, it’s done with such affection and enthusiasm behind and in front of the camera that proves to be infectious. How can you resist a thriller about a murder in a theater where a thriller plays?

We are in 1953 in the West End of London. Just as the theater company prepares to celebrate its 100th stage performance of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” a body appears backstage. It is owned by crass and blacklisted American director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody, a boo), who has been hired to turn the play into a film. Jaded and drunk Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) arrives to crack the case, and he’s joined (much to his dismay) by the talkative and over-eager rookie, Agent Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). He plans to show her the ropes, but maybe Stalker can teach her a thing or two, even as she writes it all down and jumps to conclusions.

Natch, everyone is suspicious! Did theater impresario Petula Spencer (Ruth Wilson) do it? Or was it dandy playwright Melvyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo), or even Melvyn’s macabre taxidermist “nephew”, Gio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd)? Maybe it’s the charming actor Dickie Attenborough (Harris Dickinson). Or could it be ruthless film producer John Woolf (Reece Shearsmith) and his assistant secretary Ann (Pippa Bennett-Warner)?

The film practically throws itself under the bus, but while having fun. Adrien Brody’s Leo Köpernick, our tried-and-true noir-style afterlife storyteller, much like sunset boulevard-calls “The Mousetrap” the “second-rate” Agatha Christie thriller. Based on the derivative nature of all whodunits, Köpernick even points out how they all begin with an “endless prologue” introducing each character. Well into the film, David Oyelowo’s pretentious playwright/screenwriter character laments the subtitles and “three weeks later” flashbacks when we get exactly that moments later.

Sam Rockwell is the straight man but still finds amusement in the world-weary Detective Stoppard, whose code for “going to the pub” is “going to the dentist”. Not always an opportunity for light comedy, Saoirse Ronan is an adorably funny delight as Constable Stalker, a walking cinematic encyclopedia who talks in puns and could go on and on. The African Queen. The feisty actors all have an obvious ball, though most of them only get one quirk or trait each; Rockwell’s Stoppard and Ronan’s Stalker at least have lives outside of the murder case. A bonus: the adorable, helium-voiced Shirley Henderson is perfectly cast as “the popular mystery writer” herself.

Knowing all the thriller tropes in literature and motion pictures, the image is too good-natured to ever come across as self-satisfied. Tom George’s spirited direction employs all sorts of stylistic choices for this material. Its pacing bounces and its production designers nail the period with just enough artifice to suit the larger tone. See how they work is an absolute lark, but he’s a fun lark who’s as light on his feet as a sneaky murderer.

Searchlight Pictures comes out See how they work (98 min.) in theaters September 16, 2022.

About Herbert L. Leonard

Check Also

Slow-Motion Crime Thriller Smells Boredom E! News UK

Language: German with audio options and English subtitles A cop desperate to regain his sense …