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Telling a good murder mystery in our time takes a lot of skill given the genre’s long history. Masters like Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock and others have done it so well that any new attempt has to come up with something new to stand out.

The Hook of the New Movie See how they work is that it actually takes place around the original Christie’s production The Mouse Trap in London’s West End in the 1950s. The play, which is celebrating its 100th performance, is celebrated with a party attended by the cast, including star Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson), producer Meryn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo ) and the director of the eventual film adaptation, Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody).

When one person at the party is murdered, everyone naturally becomes a suspect. Scotland Yard officials, including Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) and Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), launch an investigation, which is hampered by Stalker’s inexperience and overly enthusiastic personality, as well as the Stoppard’s perpetual drunkenness and generally sullen attitude.

Directed by Tom George and written by Mark Chappell, both of whom are making their film debuts, the film comes across as an overly clever take on a murder mystery. Köpernick begins the film with a voiceover that pokes fun at murder mystery stereotypes as the film adheres to those same stereotypes. This self-awareness continues throughout the film, providing the occasional light chuckle but little else.

More successful is the depiction of Stalker as comic relief. She’s seemingly innocent and naive, but her use of puns, insults, and asides indicate she knows more than she’s letting on. Ronan’s delivery of the various lines is spot on, especially coupled with Stoppard’s uncompromising character.

The murder mystery itself is ho-hum, as the movie seems to focus more on the characters’ eccentricities than the mystery itself. Given that, it would have been nice to get to know some people better. Only Stalker and Stoppard become more than one-dimensional, with the rest defined by little more than their quirks.

Ronan and Rockwell are the undisputed stars of the show, so it’s their performances that stand out the most. Ronan has four Oscar nominations to her name, but she’s as good at comedy as she is at drama, and she’s a delight in the role. Rockwell has the rare opportunity for an American to use a British accent, and while he does it well, his character fails to make much of an impact.

The self-referential nature of See how they work it’s a bit too much, with newbie filmmakers overdoing their hand. It won’t be considered a classic thriller, but it does provide some light entertainment for anyone who doesn’t want to work too hard on their movie watching.

See how they work is running in theaters now.

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan in See How They Run.

Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh

Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan in See How They Run.

About Vivian J. Smith

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