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See How They Run

MOVIE | Self-referential whodunit is an enjoyable inside joke for Agatha Christie fans


20th Century Studios

<em>See How They Run</em>
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Rated PG-13
➤ Theaters
➤ S3 / V5 / L5*

See How They Run opens on a winter’s evening in London in 1953, at a production of Agatha Christie’s stage play The Mousetrap. Ominous jazzy tones and glittering city lights accompany a voiceover from Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody)—an American film director who plans to adapt The Mousetrap for the silver screen. He summarizes the predictable formula of “whodunits”: the least likable character gets knocked off quickly, and a world-weary inspector soon enters the scene to solve the grizzly crime.

It’s too bad for Kopernick that he’s the antagonistic and unlikable character in this story. His demise comes swiftly—murdered among the props and costumes of the ­theater’s backstage, fulfilling his own predictions.

Kopernick’s insistence that the screenplay for The Mousetrap must include a murder in the first few minutes is one of the many meta-jokes running throughout See How They Run. The self-referential film is a sort of homage to Christie’s famous play. In this movie we see a murder mystery about a murder mystery and a film about a play that people want to adapt to film. As Christie aficionados know, no one’s been able to adapt The Mousetrap to screen because they have to wait for its run in London’s West End to close—and the show’s been running continuously for 70 years.

The world-weary detective tasked with cracking the case is Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), and he’s accompanied by the enthusiastic young Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). A cast of suspects live glamorous lives, but can they be trusted? Stylish Petula Spencer owns the theater. Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim (Harris Dickinson and Pearl Chanda) are based on the real-life stars. Attenborough endears himself to Stalker (a cinema lover) with his friendliness and a gift of tickets to see the play. But his kind gesture might be a clever diversion. Agatha Christie herself shows up as a ­character, mysteriously referenced but rarely seen in the film.

The ensuing investigation features classic elements of English murder mysteries. Interviews with diverse suspects, motives for murder revealed at each turn, and charming depictions of vintage English life. The film also addresses the tension between commerce and excellence and considers the ethics of depicting traumatic events for the sake of either motivation.

See How They Run is primarily upbeat and funny, but seeing the bloodied murdered victim might upset some viewers. Ronan’s performance as Stalker—overzealous, with a proclivity for puns and jumping to conclusions, but also dedicated to her work—stands out especially.

Like Christie’s stories, the movie is formulaic. But for lovers of the genre, See How They Run is an enjoyable inside joke, made richer with a little food for thought on the nature and ethics of art.

*Ratings from kids-in-mind.com, with quantity of sexual (S), violent (V), and foul-language (L) content on a 0-10 scale, with 10 high


Movie adaptations of the works of Agatha Christie

  • A Night of Terror / 1937
  • And Then There Were None / 1945
  • Witness for the Prosecution / 1957
  • Murder She Said / 1961
  • Murder on the Orient Express / 1974
  • Death on the Nile / 1978
  • The Mirror Crack’d / 1980
  • Evil Under the Sun / 1982
  • Appointment with Death / 1988
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