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Murder By Numbers (R)
Warner Brothers
Official Site
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Producers: Sandra Bullock, Frank Capra III, Richard Crystal, Susan Hoffman, Barbet Schroeder, Jeffrey Stott
Written by: Tony Gayton
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Michael Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Ben Chaplin, Chris Penn, Agnes Bruckner

Rating: out of 5

"Once that you’ve decided on a killing, first you make a stone of your heart. And if you find that your hands are still willing, then you can turn a murder into art... because it’s murder by numbers—one, two, three—it’s as easy to learn as your ABCs."—The Police

Murder is an art. It’s an idea mass-murderer films have followed for a while now, from Silence of the Lambs to Copycat to Seven. Murder By Numbers adds to this rich tradition, delving into the minds of two spoiled rich kids, who plan a senseless, random murder to become free. (See also, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.)

The film follows two sets of partners, the kids (Pitt and Gosling) and the cops (Bullock and Chaplin). Raised in an under-supervised, over-privileged world, the two boys, Justin (Pitt) and Richard (Gosling), form a close bond unlike any other relationship they have known. (See also, Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.) Justin’s dark, brooding intellectualism and penchant for melancholy philosophy, and Richard’s suave good looks and oozing charm combine to plot the "perfect murder."

Cassie (Bullock) and Sam (Chaplin) aren’t such a well-matched pair. Haunted by the one crime scene that changed her life, Cassie is overzealous and on the edge of a breakdown. Sam is her new partner, worried about her sanity while trying to make a name for himself as a detective. Unfortunately, their relationship and their backstories somewhat slow the film. When they weren’t interacting with the boys, the story dragged. Their acting wasn’t bad. Bullock and Chaplin can certainly hold their own, they just didn’t have much to work with and consequently were overshadowed by Pitt and Gosling.

As is true with numerous crime/horror films, the villains outshone the heroes. A complex blend of naïveté, insanity and creepy intelligence, Justin and Richard are much more interesting than their lawful counterparts and much more real. Pitt and Gosling lead the way among truly young members of Young Hollywood (both are 20). Despite previous rave reviews for Pitt’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Gosling’s The Believer, they both break through here. Expect Pitt to become an indie god and Gosling to grace teenie-bopper rags everywhere.

Murder By Numbers is a good film with some annoying weaknesses. If you can get past the slow-moving screen time between Bullock and Chaplin, the film shines as an homage to misanthropic, but highly gifted teenagers everywhere. Thankfully, most pissed-off kids don’t decide to commit murder, but it sure makes for good cinema when someone puts their story down. If psychological murder mysteries are your cup of tea, Murder By Numbers will thrill you, confuse you, and certainly entertain you (if not only for the oddly alluring homoerotic undertones between Justin and Richard; again, Hitchcock’s Rope). The killers may not be as savage as Hannibal Lecter, or as biblically whacked out as John Doe in Seven, but after all, they are just kids. And that may be the creepiest part of the whole thing.

Renae Bolen


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