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Murder by Numbers

Starring Sandra Bullock and Ben Chaplin
Screenplay by Tony Gayton
Directed by Barbet Schroeder
Official Website

IN SHORT: Script by numbers, too. Buy popcorn. [Rated R for Violence, Language, a Sex Scene and Brief Drug Use. ]

OK, make a list of everything you need in a great murder-mystery-thriller-flick: a murder, of course. Evil bad guys, a cop who'll go up against the rest of the department with a rookie (or inexperienced) partner, no evidence, lots of bluffing, some nasty violence to the victim or cop or innocent bystander, a twist in the plot you never seen coming . . . and an occasional pause to allow the audience to catch their breath. Murder by Numbers may have, at its root, everything you've seen before twisted into a new pattern but it's also got Sandra Bullock. Works for us. That being said, we will always prefer a movie which is "overwritten" to one which barely has enough meat on its bones to leave the dog howling in disgust. Tony Gayton's script packed to the gills with detail, all sneaking by in dialog so quickly that you may miss it all until the inevitable recreation of the crime, so to speak, clears everything up. Unlike a Sherlock Holmes or Perry Mason revelation you get these flashbacks in little tiny pieces, which helps build a righteous amount of suspense as the final minutes of life tick away for at least a couple of the characters involved in this tale of domination and depraved indifference in a small California community stocked with shattered homes and way too rich kidlets whose parents believe that neglect is the best way to provide for the next generation -- neglect as in "I'm working my ass off for you so you can be a schizophrenic economics genius and win the Nobel Prize!"

This is the land of high school stud in the making Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling), his geek du jour subordinate, Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt). Richard is manipulative and cold, too damned pretty and well aware of it. Justin is just the type to argue Nietzche just for the hell of it He takes unpopular decisions, carries himself in almost an effeminate way, though he's straight as an arrow, and probably has committed to memory all the works of Robert E. Howard and HP Lovecraft (and their successors).

That kind of life. Parents are divorced. Kids are too flush and the thrill is definitely gone from their all mapped out late teenage lives. These Enron executives in the making brew their own absinthe and create their own little candle lit worlds to destroy their brain cells in. When the inexorable, utter tedium of their seventeen or eighteen year spans becomes too much to bear, there is always the pursuit of other intellectual challenges. Not Lisa (Agnes Bruckner), the cute blonde who would spread like peanut butter if you ask. No, Richard's mind has turned to the question of how to create the perfect murder. It's all a revenge play on the school janitor (Chris Penn) who overcharges for the hash he sells, but one victim is as good as another. The pretty young thing found in the woods is just the starting point for this investigative thriller.

Here come the cops and, for the kidlets, the real game begins. Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) is a top forensics detective with "nasty" nickname which fits her personality more than she'd care to admit. Cassie's a predator, which is used to a great extent in her police work It is this gut sense of "what happened" in to that PYT that brings her into conflict with the local captain and DA, the latter a former partner and lover, and new partner ex-vice squad detective Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin). Falling into bed with her working partners is part of the predatory pattern. Bullock pulls it off without shredding any sympathy we'd built for her character.

Despite all the planted evidence which by-the-book points the guilty finger at the janitor, Cassie's guts suspect the two way too bright and bored for their own good high school kidlets, who have been more than cooperative witnesses in the investigation. But the notorious pair in Cassie's sights aren't your typical conspirators. They're not, apparently, friends. They don't seem to hang out. There are alibis all around. So what makes this unlikely pair, the likely suspect? Cassie's guts.

We'll say it again. We love Cassie's guts, even if she won't show 'em in the love scenes, the reason for which also has a backstory all its own in this flick.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Murder by Numbers, he would have paid . . .


This is one of the times that we will tell you to buy popcorn early and take it easy on the large soda, because we know you're expecting a simple thriller by numbers. You'll get what you expect. With a no name cast, this flick would drop to rental range.

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.