8/10
Objection!! Leading!
13 January 2005
I almost didn't watch Murder By Numbers, for two reasons. First, I'm not the biggest Sandra Bullock fan, but second and more importantly, the trailer does not do the movie justice at all. In fact, I would advise against watching the trailer, because it will almost destroy all interest in watching the movie, like it did to me. The problem is that the trailer gives the impression that Murder By Numbers is a murder mystery with no mystery, because it is obvious from the start that there is no question as to who the murderers are. It leaves you with the feeling that if you watch the preview, you've seen the movie. Kind of like what happened with Pleasantville.

It is not long before it becomes clear that this is not a murder mystery, it's a murder thriller. True, there is never any question about who the killers are, but the point of the movie is the chess game that they play with the investigators on their trail. It is difficult to accept Sandra Bullock as a CSI, but at least in the second half of the film she pulls it off. In the first half she was going through the motions, for some reason not really seeming to believe what she was saying, or who she was supposed to be in the film. Of course, this is all just my reaction, I could be completely wrong.

On the negative side, the movie comes dangerously close to glorifying the Columbine shootings, although it features one rich popular kid and one recluse as the killers, while Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were both outcasts lashing out against the popular crowd. Richard, the popular kid, displays some odd behavior in his friendship with Justin, the recluse. He seems to think that they're dating and acts like an over-protective, jealous boyfriend, generating much of his rage from times when Justin doesn't pay enough attention to him or, even worse, kisses a girl. Justin is the brains behind the operation, having studied in great detail the investigative practices that would follow their master plan, Richard is the motivation. He really wants to do this, and the only reason that he ever gives in the movie is that he was bored. A true sociopath.

On the other hand, maybe it was Richard who felt like the outcast, given his lack of success with the girls. Granted, he didn't seem to have any trouble getting in bed with the girl Justin was interested in in order to turn him against her, but consider the reaction that he always seemed to get from Lisa, which was limited to obscene hand gestures. He was, of course, of the variety of high school kids who thought that the good way to get a girl's attention was to drive up next to her blasting Iron Maiden at full volume and flashing the devil's horns. Charming. Maybe if he had tried some more romantic Iron Maiden than The Number of the Beast, like Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, or Infinite Dreams. Chicks love Infinite Dreams.

The movie has a lot to say about the bureaucracy of criminal investigations, as Cassie Mayweather (Bullock) struggles to follow the strong leads that she has come across, while her boss attempts to force her to stop investigating the crime, already intent on closing the case with the tentative conclusion already reached. I'm not sure if this is meant to portray him as simply wanting the case over and done with or to show that he really doesn't care whether the real killer(s) is/are ever caught, as long as someone goes down for the crime. Either way it's not a very glowing portrayal of authority figures.

Then again, Cassie, being the only flaw in their plan, is meant to come across as this sort of reckless independent investigator, in one of the very few weak things about this movie. That's what every movie like this does. There is always someone who is forced to give up on a case because they're too close to it (the victim was a relative, lover, etc.), because they are a liability (they know the killer, the killer knows them, etc.), or because they are too dangerous (they destroyed half a city block and lost a lot of evidence). In this case, Cassie's forced to leave the case because she has found clues that might lead her to the real killers. Nice. Pretty weak way to generate suspense, but overall with some good twists this is still a pretty entertaining thriller.
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