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Murder By Numbers

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Murder By Numbers

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling
Director: Barbet Schroeder
Rated: R
RunTime: 125 Minutes
Release Date: April 2002
Genre: Suspense

*Also starring: Michael Pitt, Chris Penn, Ben Chaplin

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewvideo review
3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
4.  Edward Johnson-Ott read the review ---
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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Remember that kid back in high school, the one who was captain of the football team, so sexually assured that the cheerleaders would flock around him, and what's more was able to score in sciences and humanities in much the way he did with the girls? What did you think of him? You admired him? Hardly. You hated him, didn't you! You envied his natural good looks and sought out the class dork so you could make fun of him and feel superior to someone. Barbet Schroeder's thoughtful and suspenseful "Murder by Numbers" is particularly intriguing because the two high school seniors he focuses on one a sexually assured charmer, the other a dorky philosopher-- seem to get along just great, a complete reversal of the stereotypical grouping of 17-year-olds by separate categories like jocks, nerds, and as with the tragic event of Columbine, Colorado High School, the outsiders who were known there as the Mafia. The two young men are, in turn, the "genius" who is sought after by at least one girl because of his potential to help her in physics, Justin (Michael Pitt, "Bully"), and the all-around, all-American Richard (Ryan Gosling) with whom Justin has a subtly homoerotic bond.

As the camera shifts from the two boys to two detectives determined to solve a murder case, Cassie (Sandra Bullock) and her rookie partner Sam (Ben Chaplin), Schroeder peels more than one onion during the two hours he enjoys with his crew. We become even more interested in the psychological problems of Cassie than in the minds of either of the two boys. Schroeder, adapting Tony Gayton's screenplay with a Hitchcockian style (we know the identity of the killers in the very beginning of the movie), keeps us wondering what there is in Cassie's background that makes her hate this kid Richard so much, makes her so fiercely determined to pin a murder rap on him that she risks her mental health and pushes the envelope with her boss in the local California homicide division. Cassie is as sexually aggressive as the kid she's after, seducing Sam, her new partner, and then kicking him out of her houseboat residence when he's more than eager to have breakfast with her. We wonder why, when Cassie investigates a scene of a brutal crime, she reverts in her memory to a traumatic situation in her own life that must be the source of her pain.

As Cassie questions young Richard who deliberately does not seek a lawyer because he and his intellectual pal Justin want to prove that they are smarter than the cops a counter- transference takes place. Richard is being psychologically broken down by the detective but more interestingly Cassie is herself undergoing stress because of an incident in her life that comes to her conscious mind painfully during the interrogations.

Ben Chaplin does well as yin to Sandra Bullock's yang, a passive guy (as he was in "The Birthday Girl") while Bullock, who is co-executive producer of the film, chucks her comic demeanor to become a troubled, no-nonsense, sexually conflicted powerhouse.

The melodramatic ending, which some in the audience will probably cheer as a break from the tense scenes of non- violent psychological tension were for me the only disappointment in a classy thriller that does justice to the Iranian-born Schroeder, the son of a German geologist raised in Iran and Argentina before settling down in France. There's no surprise that he once wrote for the classy Cahiers du Cinema, given his painstaking laying of the groundwork in this murder story, and garnered an Oscar nomination for one his most chilling works, "Reversal of Fortune."

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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