Murder by Numbers (2002) starring Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner, Chris Penn, R.D. Call, Tom Verica directed by Barbet Schroeder - movie review on The Movie Scene

Murder by Numbers (2002)   3/53/53/53/53/5


Sandra Bullock and Ben Chaplin in Murder by Numbers

Dial Bullock for Murder

So "Murder by Numbers" is a pretty decent thriller, I say pretty decent because unfortunately it does have a couple of flaws. The actual concept of two young men executing the perfect, untraceable murder just too see if they could get away with it, is not a new one. The master of suspense himself, Hitchcock, had a success with the same idea in his movie "Rope", but "Murder by Numbers" actually draws from a real murder case back in 1924 when two young men Leopold and Loeb were tried for exactly doing this. The other huge flaw with "Murder by Numbers" is the characters, or more to the point, the character of Sam Kennedy the newly qualified Homicide Detective. He comes over as very weak, and not the least bit convincing as someone who is capable of solving a murder. These flaws are issues but they thankfully don't ruin the movie.

When a dead body wrapped in plastic is discoverd in the woods, fiery detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock - Miss Congeniality) and her partner, Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin - The Truth About Cats & Dogs) are assigned to the case. Intent on solving the crime, Mayweather follows her gut instincts and focuses her investigations on two high school teens, Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt - The Dreamers), a misunderstood but intelligent geek and Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling - Remember the Titans), a spoilt rich kid.

Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt in Murder by Numbers

Okay, so "Murder by Numbers" is flawed as already pointed out but where it succeeds is firstly in the amount of depth it goes into with the planning of the crime but also in the solving of it. Whether the information given in the movie is accurate or not, it is still very interesting to see the lengths that the two killers went too, to commit the perfect murder. From details such as planting fibres on the dead body that belonged to someone else, or the altering of clocks to lead the detectives up the wrong path, are incredibly fascinating. Along with this, you have the crime being unravelled and all the pieces forming like a jigsaw puzzle, such as the contents of some vomit found at the crime scene leading the detectives down a new path of investigation. The way the whole story comes together through all these clues is very clever, and without wanting to spoil anything, there are a few twists which will leave you dumb founded.

On top of this, you have the sub stories of the strange bond between Justin and Richard, the unsurprising relationship between Cassie and her new partner Sam. But also Cassie's mysterious past which haunts her through out this whole case. Too start off with, I thought these sub stories were just added padding to the movie, but they do tie in to the main story, as the whole thing unfolds.

In the lead role of Cassie Mayweather is Sandra Bullock and in my opinion does a more than adequate job in quite a demanding role. I was at first a bit dubious of her in a serious role, having mainly seen her in comedies and action movies, but she pulls it off remarkably well and comes over as quite intense at times. Opposite her, as her new partner Sam Kennedy, is Ben Chaplin and sadly his performance was a huge let down. The scenes he has with Bullock which are not about the case are very good, but the moment he starts talking about the investigation he just doesn't come across as a convincing detective.

As Richard Haywood, the charismatic high school kid, is Ryan Gosling. At first he just comes over as a rich kid, who is thrill seeking and not clever enough to do the crime on his own, but as the movie progresses, you begin to learn that he is more manipulative and conniving than you first realize. Especially as you watch the way he controls the emotions of his partner in crime. Opposite Gosling is Michael Pitt, his geeky partner in crime and the mastermind behind all the intricacies of executing the perfect murder. Never having seen Pitt in any other movie, I was impressed with how well he conveyed the depth of the character.

"Murder by Numbers" is directed by Barbet Schroeder who has delivered many other great thrillers such as "Single White Female" and "Desperate Measures". With creating a movie which reworks a plot that had previously been explored by the great Alfred Hitchcock, it was inevitable that this movie would always suffer from being compared to his mightier version. In fairness he has done a brilliant job of making this movie a compelling thriller, with its detailed exploration into the committing and solving of the crime. On top of this, he has tied in all the sub stories brilliantly to make the whole movie a gripping experience. Although nothing really sticks out from the soundtrack, it does help to convey the mood of the movie with both modern and classical pieces.

What this all boils down to is that compared to many modern thrillers, "Murder by Numbers" is in my opinion, head and shoulders above the competition. Yes the plot has been reworked before, but the appeal of this movie is in the amount of detail which it goes into as it explains how the murder was committed and how the killers attempted to lead the detectives down a false path. Although this movie has got a certificate of just 15, I would suggest that, although it is not overly graphical in its portrayal of violence, there is enough scary psychological content to make this more acceptable as an 18.


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