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Murder By Numbers (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 15, 2023


Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner, Chris Penn, R.D. Call and Tom Verica.

Screenplay by Tony Gayton.

Directed by Barbet Schroeder.

Distributed by Warner Brothers Pictures. 120 minutes. Rated R.

The 1924 Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murder case… in which two well-to-do college students committed a murder for no other reason than to see if they could get away with it… may have been a senseless act, but it has certainly captured the imagination of filmmakers in the decades since. Murder by Numbers is the latest of many films to be either directly based on or just inspired by the classic story. While it is not the best Hollywood version of the source material (that honor would still go to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 classic Rope) this new film doesn’t do a horrible job either.

Sandra Bullock tries once more to demolish her good-girl image, again mostly successfully, playing a hard-edged cop whose cavalier attitude masks a shattering trauma from the past. Ben Chaplin plays her new partner, who respects her as a detective but can’t come to terms with her whip-fast personality changes. Both are very good, but the truly amazing acting comes from a pair of relative newcomers who play the young killers. Ryan Gosling (The Believer) and Michael Pitt (Hedwig & the Angry Inch). These young actors have a searing sense of the insecurity and inadequacy and at the same time total vanity that would be necessary to make such a leap.

In the end, there are more than a few questions never answered, not the least of which is why was this film called Murder By Numbers other than the fact that they must have thought it would be cool to steal a title from a Sting song? The killings have nothing to do with mathematics and while the young killers are trying to make a list of things to do in the murder that is really a stretch to get to the title.

There are also entirely too many scenes in which Bullock blindly goes into dangerous situations with no back up (a scene involving a wild monkey particularly feels unrealistic). And after most of the film succeeds in being intriguing and involving, the ending is just too much of a Hollywood cliché. While Murder by Numbers is a perfectly serviceable little thriller, the talent behind it should have made so much more. (4/02)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Posted: April 19, 2002.


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