While the new thriller Murder by Numbers is entertaining and full of suspense, it is too political. Starring Sandra Bullock as Cassie Mayweather, a character too engineered to seem realistic, the movie is a crime thriller about two boys who believe they have engineered the perfect murder. And without the cutthroat Mayweather’s salient intuition prompting her to suspect the boys, they most surely would have escaped.
In her clichéd role, Bullock’s female cop seems constantly plagued by PMS when compared to her more relaxed colleagues and superiors. While she sticks firmly to her gut feeling that the boys are guilty, the rest of the police force ignores her and follows the boys’ lead to a scapegoat victim.
The movie seems to be nothing more than a two-hour pity party, with Bullock chauvinistic fellow cops and her largely ignored insistence that the boys are the killers. To top off all these stereotypical rendering s of the glass ceiling, the film provides an unneeded and often distracting portrayal of Mayweather’s past—replete with an abusive husband that made her a cop hungry for revenge. These stories, however, do not seem especially relevant to the plot insofar as they detract from an interesting murder investigation.
The other story in Murder by Numbers is a premeditated crime committed by two intellectual teenagers. Their ploy is rife with philosophical overtones relevant to the impersonality of today’s society. Ryan Gosling plays Richard Haywood, one of the “cool” kids in high school who lives on daddy’s credit card and can’t help attracting copious numbers of women. His partner in crime is his physics tutor Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt II). Justin is a classic quiet kid, skilled on a computer but is not especially outgoing or friendly. It is his deranged philosophy that embraces crime and suicide that ultimately drives the film’s plot.
The two boys decide to commit a random murder as a political statement that attempts to prove the existential/nihilistic convictions that their lonely childhoods have led them to embrace.
These feelings are especially appropriate in today’s society, where individual importance takes a backseat to technological impersonality, especially in family situations. Richard and Justin’s childhoods recall the joke about how modern parents ask their children to come downstairs to dinner with instant messenger.
After seeing this film, however, one might ask for more art and less matter, since every moment is saturated with political overtones. Many of the film’s statements are melodramatic and obvious, like Bullock’s fight against a male-dominated system. The constant suggestion that the death penalty acts not as a deterrent to crime but as an incentive for criminals to confess is tasteless and unsupported, yet quietly backs up the film’s saccharine attempts to be a crowd-pleaser.
One refreshing political overtone is the disdainful stance the film takes on smoking. With recent flicks rife with “cool” smokers, both good and bad, Murder by Numbers’ Richard is incomplete without the dirty butt hanging from his sinister mouth. Each time he appears, you want to slap him and make him realize that his smoking habit (not to mention his killing habit) is not as cool as he seems to think.
The crux of Murder by Numbers is its ingenious murder and Bullock’s equally cunning means of catching the villains. While political nonsense often detracts from the movie’s fluidity and pace, the overall effect is a film that captivates and raises interesting questions concerning the modern state of America’s youth. It’s a good pick for those who like thrillers, or for those who fell in love with Bullock after While You Were Sleeping or Speed.
Murder By Numbers
Directed By Barbet Schroeder
Starring Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin
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