30 April 2002 | jon.h.ochiai
By the Numbers
Barbet Schroeder's "Murder by Numbers" starring Sandra Bullock is solid work, though not particularly compelling. I am a big Sandra Bullock fan, and she is effective here as forensic detective Cassie Mayweather, who is not very likable and a broken person too. However, there is a sense of detachment inherent in the story structure. It's about the perfect murder executed by two spoiled sociopath teenagers, Richard (Ryan Gusling) who is the cool one, and Justin ( Michael Pitt) who is the sympathetic geek. Basically, Richard and Justin kill a young woman, because they have nothing better to do on a school night. They are very smart and very arrogant which is normally not a bad thing, but it just doesn't work here. Tony Gayton's script does a great job of detailing the investigation of a puzzling murder, and it is truly by the numbers. We have these two punk kids flaunting their superiority, and we just want them to take a fall.
This is not a great exploration into the dark side, like Schroeder's "Reversal of Fortune" about Claus von Bulow. There are interesting turns in "Numbers". The movie is not so much a thriller, but rather a character study of Cassie. Sandra Bullock balances the bravado of Cassie, her fear of letting people get in with her, and her secret past. Bullock brings courage and strength to a suffering character. Her partner and sort of love interest, Sam (played by Ben Chaplin), is more a plot unconcealing than a real character. Though Chaplin does the bewilderment thing very admirably. The other nice touch is having Richard and Justin involved a strange sexual attraction. The most interesting thing about "Numbers" are Pitt and Gusling.
There are many entertaining twists and turns throughout the movie. Everything is done very competently. I saw the movie about a week ago, and in retrospect I like it a little more than I did when I saw it. However, it is just not inspired work. Sandra Bullock and Barbet Schroeder deserve a lot better, and so do we.