Murder By Numbers

Murder By Numbers


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Murder as an intellectual idea has been talked to death - the only true freedom is the ability to take life, etc. Bright kids don't have a monopoly on this kind of nonsense, but they flirt with it. Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt) and Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) go all the way. "There are no limits for people like us," Justin says. He's the loner genius. Richard is the high school superstar, with a rich daddy and a low boredom threshold.

Sandra Bullock is an associate producer on the picture, as well as its main attraction. She must have seen something in Cassie Mayweather, the cop they call "the hyena," because it's not immediately obvious. At a casual glance, you would be forgiven for thinking that this woman is a pain in the backside. She has no sense of humour, takes her job too seriously, allows guys to come close, only to push them away. Whatever screw-up in her past life closed the gates on commitment, it's not worth investigating. Read the sign, PRIVATE: KEEP OUT, and don't ask.

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Barbet Schroeder wants to make a melodrama, while dabbling with the concept of a psychological thriller. A cat's breakfast has more chance of winning an award for neatness. On the one hand, he follows the exploits of the boys, without digging too deep into motivation or sexuality, and on the other stays personal with Cassie, without attempting to explain her antisocial behaviour.

Sam (Ben Chaplin) has been assigned as her partner ("No one lasts long"), after a stretch with the vice squad. He's methodical and gets the job done. Character development would be asking too much, of course, and so Sam doesn't change. He looks quizzical and is never late. Underneath, in a different movie, he has a story to tell. Not here. This is Cassie's gig.

The soundtrack hints at bad things in her head, sounds of fear and violence. She clenches her teeth and looks daggers at any man who dares engage in eye contact. There is someone called Hudson in prison in California, who has nothing to do with this case, but has an affect on her emotional wellbeing. If he was a fish he would be a rusty-coloured herring, but he's not and shouldn't be here, because he's a distraction.

Justin has an intensity, as well as a girl's haircut, that is intriguing. Richard is far more of a stereotype. Their exploits in the random killing fields are glimpsed in flashback, which is a cop-out, narratively speaking.

Production values are high. You feel that you're involved in a real movie, not a low-budget video, which only adds to the disappointment. After inviting the audience into Cassie's thought processes, scriptwriter Tony Gayton sneaks off to the Justin/Richard circus for a dose of confusion.

Is this a whydunit, or a therapy session with an impossible lady? The finale perks up and then you know. It's a clifftop adventure, a Forties pastiche.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2002
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Sandra Bullock investigates motiveless murder around prestigious high school.
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Director: Barbet Schroeder

Writer: Tony Gayton

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner, Chris Penn

Year: 2002

Runtime: 120 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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