See How They Run (2022) — Movie Review
I write reviews based on four categories: Coherence, Intensity of Effect, Complexity, and Originality, each based on a score of 1 to 5. The total score is averaged out of these parts.
As I was watching See How They Run, the 2022 film directed by Tom George and starring Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, I could not help but ask the question, what happened? After Mark Kermode’s stellar report recently, my wife and I decided to give the movie a shot, and without knowing too much, it had most everything in subject matter we could want. It was a murder whodoneit, heavily referencing Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap, after we had finished only a month or two ago the Poirot television show starring David Suchet streaming on Britbox. Unfortunately for the film, while it had a stellar first half of the film, the second half dropped the film into a middling resolution. Hopefully this review will explain my feelings on this one.
Much of the characters, lighting, and tone are thoroughly bright, fun, and consistent throughout. For a time, this movie has a confidence of a quirky comedy that doesn’t waste your time and layers jokes well enough. Much of the editing in the first half of the film is a particular joy to behold, as the timing of the jokes with the snappiness of the scenes give it the kind of density I had not seen since something like Airplane, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, or Hot Fuzz. The combination of visual gags, slapstick, and editing work to establish a structure to the movie that it could rely on throughout. Unfortunately, as the case the two main leads begins to grow in complexity, and as the characters begin to establish a partnership, the movie almost abandons this strong structure and slows down, particularly when we start to witness more bodies drop, and Ronan’s character points the finger. That is not to say that the film does not take influences from other well-structured comedies. Many if not all the jokes established early on receive callbacks. But what feels missing is a sense of build up for our partners, as by the end, though they make grand choices for and against one another, they never really solidify as partners before the movie ends. Both have issues hinted at but are not capitalized on, almost as if they wanted to make space for a sequel. There is a startling lack of density later in the film, as many scenes begin to last much longer than earlier scenes, longer than they have any right to. And by the end we realize that many other crime shows have done much more with sometimes even less of a runtime. A 3 out of 5 for lack of follow through.
Intensity of Effect
The first half of the film is a laugh a minute. It is rigorous, witty, layered, quick, and quirky. The characters have archetypes that help to set up the comedy, such as Ronan’s eager but overzealous enthusiasm, and Rockwell’s straightlaced but boozy reticence. There are a couple of moments early in the movie where the characters call out a structural element that the movie is actively performing, such as a flashback, which could become annoying if overused. Luckily, the film seems aware of this. On the other hand, there are moments, such as when Ronan and Rockwell are investigating the crime scene, where Ronan presents two very well-timed puns relating to objects found, and when you expect a third, it doesn’t exist. So there seems to be, in my mind, a lack of consistency in comedic choices. One such gag, where Ronan suspects and makes an arrest on someone very close to her, is one I thought fell totally flat. The movie, however, seems to think this is a great joke, as we spend too much time on this scene, and in my mind does not contribute all that much to the overall film. In fact, between the wealth of characters, and how many fingers they have in the runtime of this film, I would suggest that there are either far too many, or there was a lack of efficiency in how the content was portrayed to the viewer. Between the Mousetrap play, the investigation, the behind-the-scenes actors of the play, and the writer and director of the attempted adaptation, I would say that there is too much taken away, possibly slowing down the great breakneck pace established in the beginning. The final scene of the movie, heavily foreshadowed by another character, to me lacks a certain heft, not because of the payoff structurally, but emotionally, as the two leads did not have that Hot Fuzz moment of the two going off, watching some action movies, and falling asleep accidentally next to each other. For a middling reaction, a 3 out of 5 fits.
The film is a comedy, with gags, about an established popular crime author, filled with evidence, callbacks, and sometimes a voiceover. It is a deeply uncomplicated film. Where there could have been an attempt to say more about the significance, the film is one where there is really no need to watch it again, nor is there any resonance beyond a simple relaxing, feel-good time. It will be a great film to show to family for this holiday season, because it is largely uninterested in speaking to anything horrifying, exhilarating, or ambiguous. For those plebeian watchers of movies and television, there will be a great thrill in catching jokes, foreseeing events, and keeping up with the characters, all while laughing and passing the kettle corn. The larger complexities involve jokes from the first half and, while they are witty, they do not transcend themselves beyond slapstick and wordplay. A 2 out of 5 for complexity.
A whodonit based adjacently to a play running in the West End for forever, See How They Run is deeply unoriginal. Capitalizing on the crime genre in what appears to be a problematic golden age, between recent documentaries and dramas, it has the same tone as Clue, without the historical context. Much could have been done, like Clue, to address historical issues as red herrings, but even here the setting exists in aesthetics only. A brief anachronism is made to Ronan as a future of female cop, despite the fact that women had been serving as officers since long before World War II. There is not much more I can say about what See How They Run lacks, except perhaps that in characterization and dynamics between Rockwell and Ronan, not much is established beyond the literal bright-eyed novice and the more learned veteran. In all these ways, I’m tempted to give the film a 1 out of 5 for originality, but while the movie is loosely based off of the Mousetrap, it exists largely as setting, not substance, and the two cops pursuing a killer in parallel to the play is at least somewhat interesting. So a 2 out of 5 works here.
A 2.5 out of 5 highlights a fun time that is marred from not following through on what I thought to be a very impressive first half. Between the accusatory scene from Ronan, a strange diversion to a bar instead of a dentist, a limp conversation at a bar, it proves that the film seems capable of comedy, but not drama, and once the drama intervenes, the comedy loses its footing. I wanted to like See How They Run More, but ultimately the film was caught between being longer and possibly ruining itself, or being shorter and denser, but no longer feature film length. I think if the film lives on, it will do so as a breezy fun film for family when they are visiting for the holidays, and little else.