Is it great? No! Does it work? Not quite.
But one cannot help LIKING this movie.
Allow me to explain…
SEE HOW THEY RUN = a kind of pastiche tribute to Agatha Christie, The Mousetrap and detective genre period pieces.
That variety is a strength /’USP’ (infectious enthusiasm and ambition). But also? Yep. A massive weakness. Because one never knows quite which tone is being sought/modelled/elicited etc; either as a whole or in certain scenes, individually.
Is it: Satire? Send-up? Love letter to or subversion of a tradition? Dunno. Sorry! It’s an unsolved mystery ;).
Premise is a whodunnit/why-dunnit. Hollywood producer intends to film a murder mystery play. Ends up himself being the victim of a murder. Cue frantic investigation, led by a detective (Sam Rockwell) and adorable sidekick (Saoirse Ronan).
All the tropes of pulp thrillers are ‘there’, onscreen. They just don’t weld together, tonally. That sense of identity crisis derails the entire enterprise, somewhat. One is left with a question of why the film was made at all. Could it simply have been done on television?
The answer is that there are some genuinely classic, cinematic techniques, deployed. So yes, bizarrely, the small scale stakes which might otherwise be at home on a Sunday teatime show, do warrant, at least here, the big screen gloss and glam.
Visually, the whole piece is stunning. Oscar worthy production design. Art deco; close up and long shot; textures, colours, styles. There is even a nod to Kubrick and some rather Spielbergian atmospherics in evidence.
Acting is superb, all round. Rockwell is a revelation. But Tim Key (Sidekick Simon, from Alan Partridge) is bizarrely, wasted, as a senior Police Officer. THE OBVIOUS THING WAS SURELY CASTING HIM AS LORD RICHARD ‘DICKIE’, ‘DARLING’ ATTENBOROUGH?
..Anyway..Back to the good (see what I mean about an up/down quality at work, here?)..
..Saoirse Ronan is absurdly unselfish; underplaying a thankless part. Yet therein lies both the challenge in her taking the character and somehow making it her own. She’s a beautiful, charming, fascinating actor and it is largely for that reason one cannot begrudge the whole film its rather overstretched ambition.
Ultimately? This movie could have been really great. It should be the Shakespeare in Love of the Agatha Christie/murder-mystery genre. Calling the hero ‘Stoppard’ only rubs in that sense of what might have been?
Instead: One gets a mish-mash of tones, threads, tropes, styles, paces and genres. That is a massive flaw. But conversely, an eccentric and unique identity which shows a loving soul at the movie’s very core. And we need that, right now, in life and on film. A kind of cinematic comfort food?
GRADE B-. You will enjoy SEE HOW THEY RUN. Trust me! By no means unmissable, but equally, a fascinating experiment.