Murder By Numbers
The 1924 Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb murder case
in which two well-to-do college students committed a murder for no other reason than to
see if they could get away with it
may have been a senseless act, but it has
certainly captured the imagination of filmmakers in the decades since. Murder by
Numbers is the latest of many films to be either directly based on or just inspired by
the classic story. While it is not the best Hollywood version of the source material (that
honor would still go to Alfred Hitchcocks 1948 classic Rope) this new film
doesnt do a horrible job either.
Sandra Bullock tries once more to demolish her
good-girl image, again mostly successfully, playing a hard-edged cop whose cavalier
attitude masks a shattering trauma from the past. Ben Chaplin plays her new partner, who
respects her as a detective but cant come to terms with her whip-fast personality
changes. Both are very good, but the truly amazing acting comes from a pair of relative
newcomers who play the young killers. Ryan Gosling (The Believer) and Michael Pitt (Hedwig
& the Angry Inch). These young actors have a searing sense of the insecurity and
inadequacy and at the same time total vanity that would be necessary to make such a leap.
In the end, there are more than a few questions never answered, not the least of which is
why was this film called Murder By Numbers other than the fact that they must have
thought it would be cool to steal a title from a Sting song? The killings have nothing to
do with mathematics and while the young killers are trying to make a list of things to do
in the murder that is really a stretch to get to the title.
There are also entirely too
many scenes in which Bullock blindly goes into dangerous situations with no back up (a
scene involving a wild monkey particularly feels unrealistic). And after most of the film
succeeds in being intriguing and involving, the ending is just too much of a Hollywood
cliché. While Murder by Numbers is a perfectly serviceable little thriller, the
talent behind it should have made so much more. (4/02)
Jay S. Jacobs
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March 11, 2017.