From Kenneth Branagh’s curly mustache as Hercule Poirot, to unraveling family secrets over milk tea and toast in Downton Manor, interest in the classic British crime genre is gaining momentum alongside a forest of creative interpretations.
Some experimented with the vision of the characters like Kenneth Branagh in his two adaptations of the novels “Death on the Nile” and “Murder on the Orient Express”. Others bring the spirit of Victorian murders into the modern age, and others mix different directorial visions and put Agatha Christie, the queen of crime mysteries, at the center of events.
“See How They Run” (See How They Run) by director Tom George falls into the third category.
Leaning on the promising concept of investigating a murder against the backdrop of Agatha Christie’s long-running stage hit The Mousetrap, feature film debutant George plunges headlong into the informal British crime story franchise.
To support the idea with humor, he uses the stage touches of the master in this work – the director Wes Anderson (“The French Bulletin”, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and garnishes the whole project with the first-class acting of Sam Rockwell, Sarah Ronan and Adrien Brody.
On paper, the idea sounds like a recipe for a visually polished film with an entertaining plot, but Tom George’s inexperience has made Watch Them Run a disposable production with exhaling ambition.
Numerous flashbacks, clumsy transitions from scene to scene, and watered-down characters prevent the film from finding the right tone.
The story opens with the film’s narrator and first murder victim, director Leo Copernicus (Adrien Brody). Following the rules of the traditional British mystery, in which the victim is the man hated by everyone, in a few minutes on screen Copernicus makes a copious amount of enemies, then drops dead backstage.
He was found on stage with his tongue cut out, surrounded by a wide range of suspects, the last of whom he is remembered for his quarrels and his push to bring Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap to the cinema.
The real-life success of a theatrical production in 1950s London was used as a setting for the fictional death of Leo Copernicus. And with a wink, “Watch Them Run” often makes references and metacommentaries on Christie’s talent in the course of investigating the fictional murder.
In the film, the image of the detective who must get to the bottom of the case is split between two characters. The jaded Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), whose thought process involves multiple breaks in the pub, and the young rookie constable Stalker (Sirsha Ronan), who diligently records every piece of evidence in her little red notebook.
As charming as their platonic interaction is, Ronan and Rockwell’s dedicated acting can’t make up for the rest of Watch The Run’s shortcomings – the lame humor, the ineffective fusion of theatrical motif with Agatha Christie’s genre specifics and Wes Anderson’s aesthetics.
Tom George has set the bar high on his own with his first big screen project, and like many others blinded by ambition, he misjudged his options.
Each of the film’s strong moments is dropped in the development of events, and the finale stands as a hastily sketched stroke rather than a solid and well-explained idea.
However, there is no shortage of attempts in this direction. There are witty theatrics, there’s a certain comedic chemistry that simmers quietly but never explodes. There are also the typical Wes Anderson films colorful visions and caricature images that provoke laughter just by their existence.
However, these beginnings have confused the director more than they have helped him, because in the meantime, he strives to keep the story of “Watch them run” to its center – the British crime story. And of the many topics in his head, George misses all of them.
Instead of organizing “Watch They Run” around the classic style of Agatha Christie and risking the obvious – that his directorial approach will be overshadowed by the talent of the writer, Tom George has preferred to make a nonsensical cocktail in which humor and mysteries alternate on stage as guest stars.
None of the motifs take over the story, they just switch places, turning the film into a mess of one-shots.
Taken together, the characters of “Watch Them Run” can be sensed as a real theatrical creature that had the potential to stand out if it had been given more time.
But the director, who has gained the strength to achieve triumphant creative achievements, misses this chance and turns his film into one of the most stiff copies inspired by the greatest mystery writer of all time.