THE MOVIE THEY MADE FOR ME! See How They Run

I imagine that in these frustrating times, when film studios have made 15-year-old boys their target audience, that those of you who love a good movie have had a similar experience to mine. You know, the one where you are so desperate to see anything in a movie theatre that you find yourself surrounded by the aforementioned youths in some prequel, sequel, or threequel from that vast, despicable entity known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You watch what passes for a plot unfold over the film’s 3+ hour length, listen to the cheers, and wonder what the heck is going on!

It seems like almost every other film released these days is related to the MCU, and while even some of its staunchest fans acknowledge that half these movies are dreck, they still feed the coffers of the studio machine to allow this industry to proliferate as quickly as a pile of infinity stones. Many of these fans could care less how well the film works as a film as long as they get the characters right and don’t deviate too far from the Marvel Comic Universe. These fans are especially susceptible to Easter eggs, those moments where the film plops out a bit of business or shows us a baffling prop that is a portent of things to come (meaning more and more sequels) – but only for the true fans. I have seen these reactions – the wild cheers from a bunch of teens in the row in front of me over the appearance of a mask or a prop or a rock or something that I cannot appreciate because I read Batman as a kid. I have scoffed at them and sneered and them and, most of all, envied them! And I have asked myself over and over again: when will someone make a movie that does the same thing for ME???

That day . . . is today!

If you follow along with me here even occasionally, you know that the film has to be a mystery, and here is where things get problematic. The classic style whodunnit fell out of favor a long while ago, replaced by psychological thrillers and slasher films. It’s hard to imagine a time when the studio system churned out so many more films a year and a great many of them were murder mysteries. I randomly selected three years on Wikipedia and discovered the following:

  • 1929 has 18 mystery movies listed, including the first filmed case for Charlie Chan (Behind That Curtain), the first two filmed cases for Philo Vance (The Canary Murder Case and Greene Murder Case) and two Sherlock Holmes films. 
  • In 1935, 27 mysteries are mentioned, among them one case each for Perry Mason, Sexton Blake, and Ellery Queen and three Charlie Chan films. 
  • 1944 lists 20 mystery films, including Laura, Murder in the Blue Room, and entries in the Charlie Chan, Whistler and Inner Sanctum series. 

Mystery series used to be hugely popular. Detectives who sprang from the page were heroes to many, and, given that many of their exploits were “B” and even “C” films made on the cheap, they provided plenty of product and revenue for Hollywood producers. Today, series are still popular, but movies are so expensive these days – and the cinema is in direct competition with TV and video games – that studios have focused on action heroes and plenty of FX. (Even Kenneth Branagh’s two forays into the Poirot-verse have been loaded with CGI and chase sequences.) 

One can’t really fight the prevalent tastes, and so as far as movie-going, er, goes, I have been left largely out in the cold. This means that there is cause for hoopla to find that 2022 has brought no less than three mysteries in the classic vein. True, a lot of Christie fans turned their noses on the first entry, Branagh’s loose adaptation of Death on the Nile, but excitement grows for the imminent return of Daniel Craig as southern sleuth Benoit Blanc in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. It is currently making the rounds of the film festivals to acclaim; sadly, it will have only a limited theatrical release in October before it bows on Netflix in November. 

Those of us excited for another case for M. Blanc have had to content ourselves with the second season of Only Murders in the Building (was anyone else left feeling discontented by that case?) on Hulu and a few tidbits on other streaming channels that I don’t subscribe to – yet. But lo and behold! A new film has opened with modest fanfare in theatres this week. It’s called See How They Run, and if the Marvel fanboys were sitting in the row above me, they would have watched in wonder as I cackled and howled at the dozens of Easter eggs lobbed at us from the screen. (I’m afraid these kids will never be caught dead watching this movie: they are currently hibernating in their coffins, waiting to emerge November 11 for the premiere of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.)

See How They Run is set in London’s West End in 1953 and opens on the night of the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s surprise hit play, The Mousetrap. Screenwriter Mark Chappell has had the nerve to merge real-life characters with fictional ones, such as Richard Attenborough and his wife Sheila Sim, who originated the roles of Sergeant Trotter and Mollie Ralston, in order to create a murder mystery within a murder mystery. 

Those of us familiar with the legend of The Mousetrap are aware that Christie inserted a clause forbidding any movie studio to make a filmed version of the story until six months after the play closed. Everyone went along with this demand because, as is stated in this film, how long could a modest thriller run? 

By the hundredth performance, a few executives are getting nervous, including film producer John Woolf (Reese Shearsmith), who has hired American director named Leo Köpernick (Adrian Brody) and British writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) to adapt the play to film. Köpernick is that staple of Christie, the Ugly American, and he has managed to foment hatred from his partners, as well as the cast, the play’s producer (Ruth Wilson) and the entire staff of the Savoy Hotel where he is staying. 

It will come as no surprise that Köpernick is brutally murdered within the first ten minutes of the movie and the case is handed to weary Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell). Scotland Yard can’t be bothered to work on a case involving Agatha Christie because they are  currently laser focused on the murder spree of John Christie at 10 Rillington Place, so Stoppard is assigned the one cop available, the plucky PC Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). Together, they try to piece together who murdered Köpernick and why. 

Police Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell)

Directed by Tom George, with cinematography by Jamie D. Ramsay, the movie is beautiful to look at, not only capturing the look and style of the early 1950’s but the style and glamor of a classic mystery. (The use of split screen adds a lot to the fun.) As a mystery – which, let’s face it, a lot of my readers care about the most – it’s good, not great. The trappings are all there: a colorful group of suspects, some nice twists and turns involving motive, and a lovely denouement that takes place at the home of a certain famous author. The screenplay is missing the clever clueing of Knives Out, and there is a problematic aspect to the fact that many of these characters were real people, although one of them – the best one – does something completely awful that you kind of wish might have really happened. (Maybe it did!!!!) 

Evil director and future victim Leo (Adrien Brody) hits on Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda)

The real fun of this film is in its meta-fictional aspects. If you know me, you know that I love a good meta-tale as much as I love a good mystery, and See How They Run delivers the meta in spades. One Easter egg after another appears for Christie fans making me react in the theatre throughout the tight 98-minute running time like an aforementioned MCU teenager and assuring that I will have to see the movie again to find out what I missed. The only thing missing was some hidden scene at the end of the credits suggesting a sequel. I mean, why not? We could do twenty films about various members of the Detection Club and then have them all reunite for a final showdown against a League of Evil composed of Edmund Wilson, Raymond Chandler, and Julian Symons.

The cast brings their “A” game (and I don’t mean Avengers) to the proceedings. Saoirse Ronan is as perfect in this as rumors had whispered, and her partnership with Rockwell is a highlight. I think Christie fans in particular will get a tremendous kick out of this film for the very reason that it isn’t an adaptation of any of her works. It doesn’t give away the ending of The Mousetrap, but it cleverly incorporates many elements of that play into the mystery. It also has a lot to say (and quite humorously) about how Hollywood went about adapting – or attempting to adapt – the work of Christie and her ilk. 

Most of all, I’m tickled to think how many of the references to Christie’s life and works other fans will discover. (Just who does that butler resemble, folks???) I wish a bunch of us had been sitting in a row, giggling and cheering together and making that grumpy kid sitting behind us very, very angry!

If anyone is into that, I’m up for seeing it again . . . 

22 thoughts on “THE MOVIE THEY MADE FOR ME! See How They Run

  1. Very much looking forward to this, and Knives Out 2.

    A question though. You say that See How They Run doesn’t give The Mousetrap ending away, but am I right in thinking SHTR is more enjoyable if you have seen The Mousetrap?

    We’re going to see the play in November. Do you think it’s better holding back on SHTR until then?

    Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have yet to see this film, but just from what Brad wrote I highly suspect that it’s the other way around: seeing this movie first will help make seeing The Mousetrap more enjoyable. And I think I can confidently say that of the two, it’s Christie’s play that can most use the boost of interest.

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      • I honestly thought of you when Adrien Brody came on the screen. His distaste and contempt for the play made me smile, and there is a wonderful scene (and a prescient one) where he pitches an idea to “Build a Better Mousetrap” onscreen. It’s not that I haven’t seen the ideas done in this movie before, but I did enjoy them being Christie-centric for once. (And you will definitely see the incorrect name . . . )

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    • Steve, all I can say is that, for me, I was glad I was such a huge Christie fan and had seen The Mousetrap before seeing the film because I understood things that I’m sure the average movie goer did not. That said, the movie – whether intentionally or not – gets things “wrong” about the plot of the play, and that irritated me in the moment. (They also got a canon name wrong, but I haven’t mentioned it here because I want to see if other fans get it, too.) Therefore, I truly don’t think it matters much which order you see them both in: there are advantages and detractions for either choice.

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  2. Brad, After disappointingly reading multiple online reviews of See How They Run that said it is mediocre, I wasn’t sure this was worth my time.

    But if I have to pick between a bunch of critics, who have to feast on endless superhero and action films for teenagers, or you, Steve and Sergio, who enjoyed the film and are experts at the GAD that I love, I look forward to this very much. Thanks for the review.

    I have seen The Mousetrap three times on the West End over the years so I expect that will make this film fun to experience.

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    • It’s frustrating that series like the MCU, Fast and Furious or horror franchises are basically critic-proof. There are great films in these series, but there are huge duds as well; that’s not going to stop the fans from flocking to them. This is why every year we seem to get less and less non-series quality films, except for the handful of stuff that comes out in the winter in time for Oscar consideration.

      It’s very possible that a critic who doesn’t know Christie or particularly like whodunnits (which, as I said, are not in favor these days except on TV) wouldn’t like SHTR. It’s a very good movie but not a great one, and it’s sad that the critics’ views have the power to put these smaller films down. I think Knives Out has a better chance because Daniel Craig is a superstar. But there’s some top-notch acting going on here, too, and a great spirit of fun. I hope you see it and enjoy it! Let me know!

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  3. I went to see this with a big Christie fan and we had a great time – she got some in-jokes I missed (dentists …) but we both really laughed at the Stoppard joke. Knowing THE MOUSETRAP helps, certainly (and because of it I had assumed a scenario that came to fruition comparatively early so then I knew it wouldn’t be the solution). Apparently the production was a bit of a nightmare (they finished shooting almost 18 months ago). A friend of mine who likes KNIVES OUT really disliked this actually and I think he just found it a bit arch and didn’t think the split screen always worked (which in fairness I agree it doesn’t always, partly just because the film isn’t in ‘Scope). He was also the only patron at his screening and this film, like any comedy, needs an audience there. I think the flashback joke was my second favourite … and yes, I know what you mean about the violence at the end Brad. That was very funny indeed. Hope they don’t get sued ..

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    • There were maybe ten people in the audience when I saw it, most of them 150 years old. (Seriously, I never feel so young as when I attend a matinee!! 🙂 ) My laughter rang out many a time in a silent room – but I don’t freaking care! Oh, and one of the dentist’s names was wrong; did your friend notice THAT?!?

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    • Sadly, “smart” movies are few and far between these days. I will definitely have to see this one again.

      And just in case anyone out there thinks I have a bias against super action movies, this year’s Everything Everywhere All At Once was another smart film and a brilliant superhero action movie.

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      • Really? I thought it was a total mess of a film, with plenty of feel-good sentiment. Much of it is weird, pretentious, or downright stupid; it felt like a bad improv show. The woman next to me walked out halfway through; I was tempted. I ended up not hating it, but I’m glad I didn’t spend more than a dollar on it.

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  4. I saw it today and enjoyed it. It was not the fairly clued mystery that I wanted it to be, but I really had a great time with it anyway. It was clever and charming, anchored by its two central performances, and just a joy. I, like you Brad, reveled in the period detail and the Easter eggs (dentist names) while my partner – a Christie novice – enjoyed it as a movie in its own right. And I really cannot ask for more. If they made a whole series of Stoppard/Stalker films (sssky I don’t think it will happen), I would be the first in line.

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  5. This looks fun and clever. It doesn’t open in Australia for another couple of weeks – by which time I will be able to walk!

    Re. the MCU – I turned my nose up at it, until I sat down last year and watched them all. (They’re a big part of popular culture, and I wanted to understand their appeal.) I had seen Avengers Assemble when it came out, without seeing any of the previous films, and it struck me as bombastic and empty. Some of them are mediocre, and I’m not a fan of the CGI battles, but several are very good: the Captain America films (period thriller, a modernised Billion Dollar Brain), Dr. Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Infinity War, and Endgame. They seem to be drifting rather aimlessly now, though. I liked the mythic elements of Eternals, and No Way Home was very likeable. But Multiverse of Madness was somehow underwhelming (despite? because? feeling like a 1980s fantasy film with Jean Marsh), and the second Thor was forgettable.

    I don’t read comics, though; the only ones I read growing up were Tintin, Asterix, and Blake & Mortimer.

    I tried to read some of the DC and MCU ones, and found them very violent and angsty. Elderly miserable Thors at the end of the universe. WonderWoman blinded herself. SpiderMan died. Captain America had PTSD, and a villain psychologically raped / abused the Red Skull’s daughter to make her evil again. And the Dr. Strange stories were very strange indeed: scabs on heads erupting into monsters, and gardens of slaughtered wizards. Not much fun, and not my cup of tea.

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  6. I’ve now seen it. I enjoyed it a lot. As Brad said, the mystery aspect was far from great, but certainly much better than the “it really isn’t important” approach of a Clue or Murder By Death, which could’ve been just as silly as they were but still much better by reflecting the structural merits of the genre. As this and Knives Out prove, clues needn’t get in the way of comedy, no matter how broad.

    The Easter egg citing was fun— I think I got most of them— but I really don’t understand basing something in historical fact and then changing details unless one has too. I mean, isn’t mining all one can from truth the reason for basing something on historical fact anyway? For instance, I understand changing the surname of one character to that of his fictional counterpart in The Mousetrap (both for reasons legal liability and matters of sensitivity reflected upon in the script), but if we’re keeping Agatha Christie, Max Mallowan, Richard Attenborough, Sheila Sim, Mignon O’Doherty and John Woolf in there, what is the need to change Peter Saunders to Petulia Spencer (and even if so, why not to something like Petulia Saundell, keeping the first syllables of the name the same? Spencer was the surname of one of the actress in the initial production, but that really didn’t make it better), when the character is not shown to have done anything untoward, whereas John Woolf is shown guilty of infidelity, and an even more famous personage is shown to… well, nothing about Peter Saunders comes close to that. While others might object to this famous person being portrayed as so unethical, I’m more offended by the character shown as being so uningenious! And even more disturbing that what this character does (which is presumably fictitious) is the very real consideration that forms the basis of the murder motive.

    At any rate, I kind of don’t see the point of half truth / half fancy. But the film was fun, well performed, beautiful to look at, and I do love how the “American” film ending tied in. And I think it will almost definitely boost sales at the St. Martin’s, even if I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

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  7. Pingback: International Agatha Christie Festival 2022: A Write-Up – JC Bernthal

  8. I enjoyed it quite a lot, got most of the Easter eggs, and got to annoy my companion early on because when they were talking about the film, I said “well, ACTUALLY, a film can’t happen because of the contract…” and then later on that became a plot point and I was able to be all “See, told you so!” It’s the little things.

    “See How They Run is set in London’s West End in 1953 and opens on the night of the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s surprise hit play, The Mousetrap.”

    Did this bug anybody else? Why 100 performances? I mean, let’s be generous and say they are only having five shows a week (I have no idea if the show runs 7 days a week, but even if they take Monday and Tuesday off and don’t have weekend matinees, still that’s 5 performances. So 100 performances is 20 weeks, not even six months of run. It’s not nothing, but it’s hardly an accomplishment that justifies a lavish gala event as depicted in the film. And given how long the Mousetrap HAS run-why not pick any other number?

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