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Murder By Numbers

A seasoned homicide detective with a troubled past investigates a seemingly random murder and begins to suspect two calculating teenagers of committing the crime.


Welcome to Anatomy of a Murder 101. Detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) is one of the best crime scene specialists around because of her tenacity in looking for every possible detail. When the body of a young woman is found in the woods of the small California coastal town, Cassie and her new partner, Sam (Ben Chaplin), are on the case. Yet, in what seems to be a random act of violence by a deranged ''profile-type,'' the case gets solved quickly--almost too quickly. Cassie has a hunch the case goes much deeper than it looks and follows the trail of shrewdly concealed evidence, which ultimately leads her to two brilliant teenage boys: golden boy Richard (Ryan Gosling) and quiet loner Justin (Michael Pitt). Against her superior's orders, the detective continues the investigation and discovers that the two boys are connected to one another in a symbiotic--and pathological--way. The case also forces Cassie to deal with some dark demons of her own, but she is determined to find out if Richard and Justin could be capable of such cold and calculated crimes.


After her last starring role in the surprising hit comedy Miss Congeniality (2000), Bullock has flip-flopped once again to explore her dark side. She's done it before (The Net, 28 Days) and she is certainly an actress who hasn't necessarily pigeonholed herself in one particular genre. She has the ability to pull it off pretty well (no comment on Hope Floats), but ultimately, comedy really suits her the best. In Numbers, we feel her character's pain as she tries to be tough and unfeeling while all the while harboring a deep dark secret-- but we miss our lighthearted Sandra. The moments where Bullock actually comes alive is when she is seducing her partner, Sam. Chaplin is delegated to be the ''love interest,'' but he and Bullock ignite enough sparks to make it work. Of the two boys, Gosling truly stands out--and with reason. This young actor, who recently won the Independent Spirit Award for best actor for his searing performance in the indie The Believer, plays the sociopath Richard with relish. He has a way of looking into the camera that simply keeps you riveted. The pouty-lipped Pitt, on the other hand, acts like a cold-hearted killer at first but manages to botch it up and get scared. He isn't nearly as chilling as his counterpart.


Directed by Barbet Schroeder (Reversal of Fortune), this psychological thriller does what it sets out to do--weave a tightly drawn story around a murder and the detectives who want to solve it. The film really almost reads as a lesson in committing the perfect crime, explaining in detail the science behind it and how, if done properly, the killer (or killers, in this case) need never get caught. The film also explores other elements, such as how apathetic and affluent teenagers can get into trouble if left to their own devices. Numbers wants to be truly cold and creepy but unfortunately slips into the predictable, which is a shame. The two actors playing Richard and Justin have the potential to give us a chilling account of amorality. Even watching how the perfect plan falls apart when the two boys begin to doubt each other isn't nearly as compelling as, say, A Simple Plan, where deep paranoia and guilt seep in. This is a good story that missed some great opportunities.

Bottom Line

Murder By Numbers has enough tense moments to keep you interested but ultimately lapses into a pat Hollywood ending.