Murder By Numbers

on April 19, 2002 by Bridget Byrne
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   This almost works: It's very expertly directed; Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt give superb performances in their Leopold and Loeb-style roles; it doesn't indulge in too many of those over-the-top thriller killer shock tactics (though a few creep in towards the end). But Sandra Bullock, despite downplaying her good looks, carries a little too much ain't-she-cute baggage into her lead role as a troubled and determined homicide cop to quite pull off the heavy stuff. Somehow it doesn't help that's she called Cassie Mayweather.

   This is we-know-who-did-it-but-let's-watch-the-unraveling-of-how-and-why-as-the- noose-tightens material. Its well-cut, neat cobbling hides a few script flaws and its pattern isn't entirely predictable, but still it's treading a well-worn path. It doesn't want to be quite as nasty as the tale it tells, yet it's aware that the ugly themes it explores could do with more thorough investigation. It follows in too many stylish footsteps, such as Hitchcock's “Rope” and “Strangers on a Train,” both tales of cold-blooded murder underlit by the passionately twisted emotions of the killers.

   Gosling as the rich slacker, Richard, and Pitt as the overlooked genius, Justin, would give any high school a bad name. They try to pull off the perfect murder, but Mayweather has their number, her instincts pricked by her own past struggles with the power of bad boys to live up to their calling.

   Schroeder doesn't try for any false mood or overslick atmosphere, but he probably dwells a bit too long on Bullock's facial expressions which rather over self-consciously seek the emotions of her character. That's not to say she's isn't appealing at times as this hard-edged, feisty, ballsy woman driven by her own demons. Stuck with the role of partner and lover, Ben Chaplin is also appealing and manages not to look too much like a sap, even at moments when the script heavy-handedly pushes to please the tough-chick crowd.

   But it's Gosling and Pitt who have the best of it, able to play these nasty young men so well that their creepy appeal never oversteps the bounds of reality. That's scary. Starring Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt and Ben Chaplin. Directed by Barbet Schroeder. Written by Tony Gayton. Produced by Barbet Schroeder, Susan Hoffman and Richard Crystal. A Warner Bros. release. Drama/Thriller. Rated R for violence, language, a sex scene and brief drug use. Running time: 119 mi

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