Then Playing — Confess, Fletch; Montana Story; See How They Run

Confess, Fletch (Greg Mottola, 2022). Jon Hamm fought hard to get Confess, Fletch made at time when the showbiz ecosystem is especially inhospitable to genially loose movies that rely on charm rather than aggressive cymbal crashes of familiarity with established intellectual property. Perhaps understandably then, he sinks into the role of Irwin M. Fletcher, former investigative reporter of some repute, like a like it’s a soothing bath. Adapted from the second of nine Fletch novels written by Gregory McDonald, the film follows the title character as he tries to get to the bottom of a murder for which he’s been set up to appear to be the prime suspect. Director Greg Mottolla get the wry tone precisely right and is equally deft at the balancing act required when a dramatizing a story that’s tightly plotted but meant to appear genially ramshackle. There are fine supporting turns throughout, led by Hamm’s old Mad Men cohort John Slattery, playing a pugnacious newspaper editor.

Montana Story (Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 2022). This finely constructed drama reunites siblings Erin (Haley Lu Richardson) and Cal (Owen Teague) on the Big Sky Country ranch they grew up on, nearly a decade after the former fled the place after a particular abusive encounter with their father, who’s now dying. Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel are wise to set their camera in place and simply take in the expansive landscape, but they also know how to insightfully, inventively depict the day to day of life on the range. A scene where the characters traverse the long, twisty roadway into a farm property to inspect a truck for sale feels in its plain simplicity like a truer realization of the feel of rural life than any heated drama about farms in peril. As is often the case when she’s present in the cast list, Richardson is the film’s trick-taking ace, bringing authenticity and intelligent range to a character hardened by her understandable resentments but also clearly caring enough to find her way back to a place of peace. Montana Story isn’t particularly innovative, but it admirably strives to be truthful.

See How They Run (Tom George, 2022). That this comedic murder mystery was made is so clearly attributable to the surprise success of Rian Johnson’s 2019 film, Knives Out, that hinging the plot of the original stage production of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap almost seems to be an attempt to inoculate against criticisms of opportunism. Knives Out didn’t invent this sort of thing, you know, the film insists. (Johnson insists it, too; he’s very clear that he’s paying respectful homage to Christie’s vast oeuvre.) See How They Run sets gruff, rumpled Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and earnest, overly enthusiastic Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) to the task of solving a murder that took place backstage on the night of the one-hundredth performance of the massive London stage hit, in 1953. Of the two actors, Ronan shines brighter, if only because the role makes it easier to lean on her natural screen charisma. The film is sprightly enough and has some fun elements plopped in, such as ravishing art design and set direction, a playful supporting performance by David Oyelowo as a fussbudget playwright. It’s also meandering and weirdly lacking in engagement. Director Tom George constructs it capable enough, but can’t manage to give it any verve or momentum.

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