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USG Movie Review: ‘See How They Run’

<h5>The Princeton Garden Theatre</h5>
<h6>Isabel Kingston / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Princeton Garden Theatre
Isabel Kingston / The Daily Princetonian

Warning: Spoilers ahead! 

Whodunit is that question that I can never seem to answer in books and movies, and Tom George’s “See How They Run” was no exception. Since I am incapable of doing so myself, the apathetic Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and amateur Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) are introduced to solve the mystery of the death of American director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody).

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The film opens with a voice-over from our fallen Köpernick, setting the first scene, which takes place at a celebration of the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” a whodunit style play. Within this first expositional scene, we get our initial introduction to the film’s excessive meta humor, with Köpernick opining on whodunits, saying, “seen one seen ’em all.” This offense is properly taken care of, however, as Köpernick promptly gets strangled to death, upholding his credo that the most unlikable character gets killed off first.

On the crime scene, Constable Stalker is quickly established as incapable, with her mistakenly identifying Inspector Stoppard as non-essential personnel, rejecting his entrance and briefly leaving him in the pouring rain. From here on out we are subjected to Stoppard’s dramatic cold, ranging from sniffles to visceral nose blowing. I initially found the humor of this film overdramatic, with Stoppard’s cold being only one example. Constable Stalker’s flagrant inexperience and Inspector Stoppard’s egregious laziness didn’t help, but as the movie progressed, I found myself enjoying the humor. The actors do a fantastic job performing their somewhat empty caricatures, and their vitality translates perfectly, as the audience laughed numerous times throughout my viewing.

After establishing Constable Stalker and Inspector Stoppard’s presences, the movie begins its pattern of transitioning into flashbacks, a transition marked with more meta commentary on the flashbacks. These transitions to B.K.D. (Before Köpernick’s Death) are smoothed by well-selected sound effects and the use of a split screen.

The frequency of split screens in this film perplexed me, as their presence felt jarring and unnecessary. Aside from some clever visual transitions, I found myself questioning this directorial choice numerous times — especially because it caused the screen to not be filled entirely. Initially, I thought that the split screens in this film were used only for transitions to flashbacks, which somewhat justified the choice for me. But as the movie continued, I found that their sporadic nature did not solely align with this purpose, which confused me further. 

The film progresses with flashbacks slowly catching up to the present, revealing the circumstances that culminated in Köpernick’s death. With this, we are also shown every time Constable Stalker comically jumps to conclusions. This running joke throughout the movie, paired with her incessant note-taking, was a highlight for me. Ronan’s comedic timing was golden and every callback to her long list of notes, where she highlights and underlines “Don’t jump to conclusions,” made me giggle.

Despite repeatedly writing and repeatedly being told to not jump to conclusions, Stalker’s ignoring of such warnings results in our climax: the imprisonment of Stoppard for the murder of Köpernick (and at this point in the movie, screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris — played by David Oyelowo). Placing the audience in the psyche of Stalker very effectively disillusions the audience into believing that Stoppard is in fact the killer, but it also fails to develop an arc for Stalker. It is arguable that her character development is established when she and Stoppard, after being released from jail, concurrently determine the true identity of the murderer. Even this climactic event does not deviate from Stalker’s pattern of making impulsive assumptions regarding the murder mystery, and it’s just that this one happened to be correct.

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Finally, we arrive at Agatha Christie’s country home where the cast of “The Mousetrap” is gathered and ultimately targeted by our resident murderer… 

Dennis. Who is Dennis? He’s the usher at the theater where “The Mousetrap” is being played, of course. This reveal left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was delighted that there was no possible way to arrive at this conclusion as an audience member, because it made me feel better about being helpless at solving whodunits. On the other hand, I was frustrated with how little the writers trusted the audience, displayed in their lazy setup of Dennis as the person whodunit. The only remnant of a hint to the audience about the murderer’s identity is very subtle: in the background of a scene used to frame Stoppard as the murderer, the usher can be seen leaving the theater. The lack of development of Dennis as the murderer made the reveal feel cheap and underwhelming.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching “See How They Run.” Despite my many critiques, it was a great way to conclude my Friday, and I recommend it as a silly movie to watch with friends or family. The film could definitely lose some of its meta humor and breaking of the fourth wall, but it generally left the audience laughing at the punchlines and smiling at the puns. Although my ego has gotten a little crushed by my failure to solve this whodunit, I don’t discourage those who want to give it a try themselves.

Ella Colby is a contributing writer for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at ellacolby@princeton.edu, or on Instagram at @ellacolby.

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