SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) – Playful Murder Mystery Comedy More Amusing Than Funny

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SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) brings together two of my favorite actors working today, Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, and pairs them as Scotland Yard detectives in a playful mystery/comedy that is full of spirit and gumption yet has a script that only partially delivers.

And while Rockwell and Ronan do share some onscreen chemistry, it’s Adrien Brody who delivers the film’s best performance. Unfortunately, Brody’s character is killed off before the opening credits, and it’s his murder that the detectives have to solve. Now, we do continue to see Brody’s character in flashbacks, and while SEE HOW THEY RUN obviously isn’t on the same level as the classic SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950), in which the story was told by William Holden’s deceased character, Brody even in flashbacks pretty much dominates the film.

The opening pre-credit sequence, which just might be the best sequence in the whole film, introduces us to Hollywood film director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) who is in London in the early 1950s to prepare for a film version of Agatha Christie’s hit play, The Mousetrap, and in this lively sequence, we learn of Kopernick’s contempt for the murder mystery trope which he views as cliche, and we also see that he is pretty much a complete jerk, insulting or getting on the wrong side of nearly all the players involved with The Mousetrap, and so it’s no surprise that someone jumps out of the shadows and kills him. Just before this happens, he laments that somehow, he unwittingly has become a victim in the type of story he disdains!

Enter Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) who are assigned to the case, and Stoppard has also been tasked with training the very green Stalker. It’s their job to solve the crime, and pretty much all the suspects are the folks involved in both the play and film versions of The Mousetrap, making this a mystery within a mystery.

Sam Rockwell, who has been brilliant in so many different roles, from George W. Bush in VICE (2018) to the racist cop Dixon in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), to, going way, way back, the whiny “red shirt” crew member Guy Fleegman in the hilarious GALAXY QUEST (1999), to name just a few. Here, he has the thankless role of playing the straight man to both Ronan’s character and the rest of the supporting players, who are all over-the-top larger than life suspects. His take on the sad, dour Stoppard is of a man deep in melancholy and in need of a drink. While the other actors all appeared to be having a fun time playing their roles, Rockwell here was playing the heavy. He’s convincing, as you would expect. And we are spared any voice-over narration from the depressed detective.

Saoirse Ronan fares better as Constable Stalker who takes things so literally, she often seems like a bumbling Inspector Clouseau, but she’s no fool, and her meticulous notes actually help crack the case. But she is a source of a lot of the humor here, as she does take things literally, like when one of the characters steps up to Stoppard and says, “I did it!” in reference to something she just did, but Stalker misinterprets that as a confession and announces, “I arrest you for the murder…!” Ronan gets most of the laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. The only issue I had is most of these moments were shown in the film’s trailers, and they didn’t save all that much for the movie, so her best bits, I had already seen.

Still, it’s another terrific performance by Ronan, who has wowed me in such movies as LITTLE WOMEN (2019) and LADY BIRD (2017). This is the most fun performance I’ve seen her deliver.

And other than Adrian Brody’s scene stealing performance as a deceased director, it’s the best performance in the movie.

The rest of the cast is fine, although none of these folks, in spite of their eccentricities, really come to life as much as expected. David Oyelowo plays annoying screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris, and Ruth Wilson plays the arrogant theater owner. My favorite Ruth Wilson role remains her recurrent role as the explosive Alice Morgan on the gritty Idris Elba cop TV series LUTHER (2010-2019).

Director Tom George holds nothing back and has made a murder mystery that pokes fun at the genre and looks fabulous while doing it. However, the screenplay by Mark Chappell, in spite of going all out in an attempt to not be the genre it’s spoofing and doing creative bits like breaking the fourth wall at times, simply isn’t as sharp as it needs to be. Briefly put, the laughs simply aren’t there. SEE HOW THEY RUN is far more amusing than it is funny.

I loved the cinematography, and it nails the 1950s London look. I enjoyed all the characters, although with the exception of Brody’s Leo Kopernick and Saoirse Ronan’s Constable Stalker, they don’t really come to life. They remain caricatures of the characters they are playing. Even having Agatha Christie (Shirley Henderson) herself show up doesn’t cut through the surprisingly wooden characterizations.

There’s a lot to like about SEE HOW THEY RUN, even as a lot of it doesn’t work. I wish the jokes had been sharper. Let’s put it this way. It’s not Mel Brooks or Neil Simon. It’s not even Agatha Christie. But it sure tries like heck.

It does have a snappy music score by one of my favorite film composers these days, Daniel Pemberton, who wrote memorable scores for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015) and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017).

SEE HOW THEY RUN is fun and entertaining and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In a way, I wish that it had. It may have resulted in a stronger, tighter, and ultimately funnier script.

I give it two and a half stars.

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OSLO (2021) – Story of Historic Oslo Peace Accords Straightforward and Authentic

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OSLO (2021), a new HBO original movie, tells the story of the backchannel negotiations held in Oslo, Norway which led to the historic Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

It’s an important story to tell, not only for historical reasons but because it’s one that is every bit as relevant today as it was back in the 1990s when these events occurred. OSLO tells this story in a plain, straightforward manner that doesn’t always translate into a satisfying viewing experience. In short, it plays like the TV movie that it is rather than anything you would see at the theater, and this works against it.

The screenplay by J.T. Rogers, who adapted it from his Tony Award winning play of the same name, is clear and concise in its storytelling, and does allow for some characterizations to shine through. But moments of drama and tension, while there, are all rather subdued, and the whole thing plays more like something you would be required to watch in a history class rather than something you’d sit down to appreciate on your own. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. It does. It just doesn’t come alive like the best movies do.

Norwegian couple Mona Juul (Ruth Wilson), who works for the Norwegian state department, and her husband Terje Rod-Larsen (Andrew Scott), who runs a think tank, decide to become involved in the Middle East peace process when they are traumatized by an event in which they witness as Israeli and a Palestinian, both young men, about to kill each other, and as Mona recounts, looking like that was the last place they wanted to be, and harming each other the last thing they wanted to do. So, Mona and Terje secretly approach both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and offer to bring them together in a private spot in Oslo, and by using Terje’s think tank methods, attempt to do something that so far no one had been able to do, reach a peace agreement. When both sides ask why they should say yes, Terje responds that they need him, and without his methods, they will continue to fail. They agree.

The rest of the movie recounts what happens at this secret meeting place in Oslo.

Directed by Bartlett Sher, OSLO does what it sets out to do, which is recount a significant historical event. It just doesn’t do it in a way that makes for a rewarding cinematic experience. In short, it’s not terribly exciting.

What OSLO does best is capture a feeling of authenticity. The whole thing seems real. It invites the audience in and makes them feel like they are a fly on the wall to these secret negotiations. This feeling of authenticity extends to the cast as well.

Getting the most screen time are Ruth Wilson as Mona Juul and Andrew Scott as Terje Rod-Larsen, the married couple responsible for launching these negotiations. Wilson, who was very memorable as the unpredictable Alice Morgan on the excellent Idris Elba TV series LUTHER (2010-2019), plays Mona as the level-headed half of the married team, constantly reminding her husband Terje of what they can and cannot do during these negotiations. Scott plays Terje as the more emotional half, wanting to become more involved and help in more ways than they agreed to. As a STAR TREK fan, I couldn’t help but think of the Prime Directive when watching these two face their own dilemma of having agreed not to influence the negotiations.

There are several other notable performances as well, including Salim Dau as Ahmed Qurei, and Waleed Zuaiter as Hassan Asfour, the two members of the Palestinian negotiating team, and Doval’e Glickman as Yair Hirschfeld, an Israeli professor and private citizen pressed into the negotiations, and Jeff Wilbusch as Uri Savir, the smooth polished and self-assured Israeli negotiator.

These secret meetings were ultimately a success and led to the Oslo Peace Accords. Sadly, this peace was only temporary, and the violence between the Israelis and Palestinians continues to this day.

The story told in OSLO is relevant today. The political climate in 2021 is filled with division and hate, and one of the negotiating tactics used at Oslo was the acknowledgement first that everyone in that room were friends, because if you couldn’t start as friends, you weren’t going to get anywhere. Opposing sides in the here and now would do well to listen to the lessons taught at Oslo and use them.

As movies go, OSLO is okay. It’s not on the same level of the riveting Iran hostage tale ARGO (2012), now nearly a decade old, unbelievably, nor did it work as well for me as the recent Netflix film SERGIO (2020), which starred Wagner Moura as United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello and told the story of his work trying to broker peace after the U.S. invaded Iraq.

But OSLO makes up for its lack of cinematic storytelling with concise straightforward writing and authentic performances.

Is it enough to keep you watching? Sure, as long as you understand that while you may have a front row seat, you won’t be sitting on its edge or leaping to your feet.

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