Saturday 18 November 2023

Movie Review: Murder By Numbers (2002)

Genre: Crime Drama
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling, Ben Chaplin, Michael Pitt
Running Time: 120 minutes

Synopsis: Bored and intelligent high school classmates Richard (Ryan Gosling) and Justin (Michael Pitt) commit what they believe is the perfect murder as a philosophical expression of freedom. Detective-with-a-troubled-past Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) and her new partner Detective Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin) investigate, and the clues pre-arranged by Richard and Justin lead to the high school's drug-dealing janitor Ray (Chris Penn). But Cassie does not believe Ray fits the murderer's profile, and doggedly continues the investigation.

What Works Well: Inspired by the Leopold and Loeb case that was previously adapted into Rope (1948) and Compulsion (1959), Murder By Numbers finds the drama's strengths in the complex relationship between Richard (rich and arrogant) and Justin (intellectual and brooding). Ryan Gosling radiates quiet danger, while Michael Pitt's performance is more understated but no less impactful. The murderers' dependency undercurrents are disrupted by liaisons with classmate Lisa (Agnes Bruckner), and Tony Gayton's script adds a further psychological dimension by providing Cassie with a traumatic backstory. Sandra Bullock enjoys a licence to be knowingly cold, manipulative, and just as calculating as her shrewd foes.

What Does Not Work As Well: Ben Chaplin is not provided with much to work with as Sam Kennedy, neither as a co-worker nor as a romantic partner. The final plot twist is unnecessary.

Conclusion: Dangerously edgy characters transcend traditional police procedural beats.

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