Murder By Numbers

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Review byMatthew Turner7/01/2002

Three out of five stars
Running time: 120 mins

Decent thriller that succeeds due to a trio of good performances, a decent script and a set of interesting characters – future Hollywood thriller-makers, please take note.

Let’s be honest, Hollywood thrillers are not usually very good. So much so that the ‘Crap Thriller’ has practically become a genre of its own. So it’s a relief that Murder By Numbers turns out to be pretty enjoyable, precisely because it does not follow the usual conventions (Good vs Ridiculously Evil) that the title hints at and instead spends valuable time on character development.

A Tough Cop With A Troubled Past

Sandra Bullock stars as Cassie, a tough cop with a troubled past. Nick-named ‘the Hyena’ by her colleagues, she has a reputation for self-destructive behaviour, which includes driving away all the partners she works with. This leads to an interesting scene in which she seduces new partner Ben Chaplin (it must be Ben Chaplin Week or something – he also stars in Birthday Girl this week) and then rejects him.

Meanwhile, two nihilistic high-school students -thoughtful, sensitive misfit Michael Pitt (from Bully) and arrogant stud Ryan Gosling (from The Believer)- carry out what they think is the perfect murder. And when Cassie starts to figure out that they’re responsible, a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues…

There are several things that work in Murder By Numbers’ favour. The first is the trio of superb performances by Bullock (playing as close to the edge of ‘against type’ as she can manage), Pitt and Gosling (both of whom are definite talents to watch in the future). Chaplin, to his credit, pulls off a decent American accent, but his character is bland and has little to do, although the reversal of their relationship –which extends to him ending up as the ‘damsel in distress’- works well.

Red Herrings

The structure of the film is impressive, too, making imaginative use of flashbacks, so that at one point we see the two students, pre-murder, carefully planting red herrings etc (planting a clothes fibre etc), intercut with Bullock and Chaplin, post-murder, discovering and trying to unravel the clues. (This is one of the film’s best scenes).

The relationships between the characters are well-drawn, too – particularly that of Gosling and Pitt. There’s a dash of homo-eroticism and their ‘intense friendship’ is given a chilling post-Columbine resonance. Similarly, director Schroeder (whose previous ‘glossy thrillers’ include Single White Female and Kiss of Death) handles the various revelations about Cassie’s past in a relatively subtle way, rather than going for all-out sentimentality and histrionics.

In short, Murder By Numbers is a watchable thriller that makes for above-average Saturday night entertainment, thanks to its intelligent script and decent performances. Recommended.

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Murder By Numbers
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Content updated: 24/10/2019 19:31

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