|It won't be considered the smartest crime film to be let out of the hollywood gates in recent years, but a strong female lead and a worthy supporting cast allow for an entertaining two hours in the thriller Murder by Numbers. Sandra Bullock's latest film role is best described as a "satisfying" performance in an interesting film. The plot itself doesn't have a lot of momentum, but the element to watch for in this film is its performances. Bullock's portrayal as a police detective searching for the answers behind the gruesome death of a young woman shows a different side of Bullock's acting abilities that she doesn't often reveal. Her character in this film is much darker and somewhat more depressed than her usual comedic personalities. Although her character in 28 days had a suitable amount of problems, that film had a large element of comedy, like most of her films.|
But Murder by Numbers is a serious film from beginning to end. With the subject matter being as graphic as it is, laughter probably wouldn't really fit into the story anyhow. Bullock's character, "Cassie," also has a few psychological problems that really give her, as an actress, something to work with. It's interesting to see the heroine of a film have to overcome both her internal and external demons to fight her problems. Bullock's character has a very trying history that's revealed slowly throughout the film and that aspect gives the film a bit more scope. But although Bullock should be congratulated on her attempt to vary her film roles, the movie she's chosen to change her persona in doesn't always play out like it was meant for the big screen.
In many of the particularly emotional scenes in the film, it isn't always possible to tell what any of the characters is thinking. This is not to say that each actor needed to have his or her emotions audibly described in voice-overs, but this story is not told from the point of view of a specific character. Or any two characters, either. And because the movie never gets inside the heads of any of its actors, the psychological aspect of the film is lessened somewhat. Bullock's character is probably the only character whose history is revealed, but the film isn't told from her point of view, so any benefit from that back-story seems extemporaneous. And the dialogue spoken by the characters doesn't allow the audience to really "get to know" any of them.
The very title of the film invites a host of mind games to be inserted into the plot, but the story itself often comes up sounding like an episode of CSI that's already been aired. The problem with making a film in the detective genre is that audience members have already been saturated with many of the available plots. And most viewers have a good amount of forensic and detective knowledge simply from the prevalence of those types of shows on television. The most important element of a detective story is its ability to fool the audience. And many of the psychological twists and turns this film has stem from well-known studies of crime. Ironically, the character of Cassie brings up the point that the profile of the killer in her case doesn't fit any known profile. And yet the film proceeds in too much of a predictable fashion.
So it is up to the actors time and time again to keep the audience interested. Though it is not possible to forget entirely that the plot isn't the best aspect of this film, each actor does his or her best to keep the audience in their seats. Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt in particular, playing the two genius murderers that Sandra Bullock's cassie is up against, give two quite gripping performances. One can almost forget the faults in plot and dialogue when either of these actors is on the screen. Though the whole film falls apart somewhat by the end, for approximately an hour and fifty minutes (the running time is just at two hours), the actors in this film seem to have put more effort into their performances than is usually seen in hollywood films.
And when so many hollywood films are rife with mediocrity, entertaining performances are almost worth the price of admission. This film could have truly scored big had more effort been put into the elements other than the actors. With just a small amount of work, the script could have been turned into a storyline with enough twists and turns to throw any viewer. And though it is tempting to say that the dialogue is not top notch, the actors save much of it. Each actor has quite an impressive screen presence and the film is better for it. And on a related note, Sanda Bullock's "strong woman" character, constantly taunted throughout the film by her male co-workers, is a type of personality that is definitely under-represented in film. Though the screenwriter couldn't resist pointing out that the main character is in a profession where women aren't common, the strong female lead was a great change from the ordinary nonetheless.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.