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Murder By Numbers
cast: Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, and Chris Penn

director: Barbet Schroeder

115 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Warner DVD Region 2 retail
[released 20 January]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Amy C. Adair
Murder By Numbers has a plot taken from the fears of Americans following the school violence epidemic. It is about two rich boys (Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt) who don't quite fit in at school. They are from different social circles, but they come together because they are intelligent, desperate for attention, and bored with life in general. Sandra Bullock plays 'complicated' detective Cassie Mayweather, who must solve the seemingly random murder of a young, working-class woman. Ben Chaplin is Sam Kennedy, her new partner, who finds out working with Cassie is sometimes more difficult than solving a motiveless crime.
   The plot is bursting with twists and turns; unfortunately, they sometimes seem to be manipulating the audience. At times, it just feels like this movie's plot is just trying too hard; if they had let the story tell itself, it might have sounded more natural. It is not a murder mystery in the usual sense, because the audience is privy to information that Cassie and her partner are not. Yet, it is the motive and mode of murder that remain a mystery to us until Cassie and Sam reveal all.
   The old cop-partner relationship is a little played out, but Bullock's performance is emotional and real. Her character's complicated past and strange track record with men makes her a ripe target for a stereotype, but she manages to stay out of that territory. Ben Chaplin is a notable foil to his hothead partner, playing the 'straight-man' role. The murder co-conspirator played by Gosling (TV's son of Zeus on Hercules: The Legend Continues) is sexy, in a very devious sort of way. One credit that can certainly be given to this film is that the actors who are supposed to be in high school actually look like believable high school students. Their physical innocence is part of what makes the two boys such disturbing murderers. The film as a whole has a disturbing want-to-look-away-but-can't quality to it.
   The suspense in this movie is played to the fullest extent. Audiences are pulled through the two worlds of cop and murderer; feeling and seeing as the opposing parties see and feel. You simultaneously want the murderers to be caught and want them, in some strange way, to escape. It is a contradiction in terms, a paradox. The beauty of this movie is that it spins a story that is not black and white, but full of minor complexities that make it realistic.
   DVD extras: cast and crew biographies, director's commentary, trailer.