Quick synopsis: A depressed alcoholic and bitter Inspector (Sam Rockwell) works alongside an enthusiastic new Constable (Saoirse Ronan) to solve a *adopts accent* MURDAH!
I absolutely adore a good WhoHasDoneThis? (which as B99 fans know, is the grammatically correct way to refer to films in the Whodunit genre). A great whohasdonethis film contains my favourite things to watch: great ensemble cast, a stylistic look to them, and a clever script. I love being surprised in films, and whohasdonethis films provide those in spades. Well, good ones do anyway. Bad ones are far too obvious, the audience should never reach the correct conclusion of the reveal before the film itself does, but the reveal has to make enough sense that when it does happen you feel kind of stupid for not getting it.
The person who is generally referred to as being the best when it comes to this genre: Agatha Christie. A lot of modern stories in the genre are heavily in her debt, and invite comparisons. The smart thing to do in this situation is to lean away from it, remove anything that can cause people to compare it to Christie. Especially if you’re a director (Tom George) making his first feature length film, and a writer (Mark Chappell) who has mainly made television. You want to keep it fairly safe and do something very un-Christie, to avoid comparisons to one of the greats. That’s the smart and logical thing to do.
They decide to go “fuck that” and lean so far into Christie comparisons that they’re basically shunting her work. It’s a very brave thing to do, and one that runs the risk of being a spectacular failure. Somehow it’s not. This film has an uphill battle to work, and climbs that hill admirably. Everything about it just works. The story is one you’re invested in, a believable case could be made for any of the characters, all who are fleshed out enough that if they were revealed you wouldn’t sit there wondering “who’s that?”. It has a visual style that’s reminiscent of the LA Noire games, some truly beautiful use of focus in some of the shots. The script is clever, keeping you entertained throughout. I mean, there’s one point where it literally tells you the ending, and when it happens you can’t help but laugh and be impressed. It’s also really funny, getting a lot of genuine laughs from people in the screen I was at. The performances are perfect, everybody is at their best. Saoirse Ronan, in particular, needs highlighting as a ball of energy who you love to see, her joyous outlook is infectious and every moment she’s on screen is a delight to watch. Sam Rockwell is good, and make no mistake, he’s a huge get for a film like this, but, I dunno, part of me feels it should have been David Tennant and I have no idea why, he was never linked to it at all, but it feels like the kind of role he’d do well in.
On the downside, there is a slight loss in momentum as it heads into the final third. The final section itself is brilliant, but the lead into it is a little forgettable. It’s not helped by a dream sequence which doesn’t seem to add much except make me want to watch The Shining. I also thought the opening was strange. This is going to seem very picky but I can’t ignore it. It opens with a shot of a theatre sign, pans down and we see someone. But because the focus is on the person, the background is out of focus. This would be fine but it means that the opening is a blurry shot of a sign, just seems a bit weird that they wouldn’t have that in focus and then just change it as they panned down. Picky I know, but it bugged me, especially the second time I saw it. But the fact I’ve seen this twice says enough about how highly I regard this film. A great watch, and a much better Whohasdonethis than the rather lackluster Death On The Nile. Does make me think that I really need to watch The Mousetrap though.