Sunday, 15 March 2009

Movie Review - Murder By Numbers

Murder by Numbers starts off with the intriguing premise of a murder committed by two students, one of whom has become an expert in forensics and knows exactly what the homicide squad will be looking for, and thus what to cover up… The murder is planned in detail, with everything taken care of to set up someone else – or so they think…

Enter Cassie Mayweather (Bullock), “unorthodox homicide detective”, and new partner Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin). They begin to piece the case together, forming an unlikely relationship that just gets unlikelier.

Enter the complete failure of what could have been a very good film.

The main problem is that none of the characters engage your sympathies (well, one of the villains would but he turns out at the end to be more in control than initially thought), and Kennedy (who would have my sympathies but he really only has himself to blame for continuing to be involved with Mayweather)… Mayweather is basically impossible for anyone (or any man, at any rate – apparently there’s only one woman working in homicide) to work with, thus Sam is put with her because no-one else will work with her. Her incessant meanness is given a reason later, but even that isn’t something that should really excuse her behaviour. But even that isn’t the main problem – even when you take into account the reason behind her behaviour, there are still several inconsistencies. This is yet another movie that glorifies reckless, callous, or irresponsible behaviour since it “all works out in the end”.

The reactions of the other characters is also somewhat random, and the whole investigative process relies far too heavily on coincidence to be satisfying. There is a LOT of acting talent on display here, it’s just shamefully wasted on a script that seems to have been rushed together at the last minute. It feels like the producers said, “okay we’ve got a major star in the lead role, a good cast, and a good introduction – so we don’t need to work too hard to make the rest of it any good”.

Am I ranting? Probably. But that’s because I’ve rarely felt so disappointed in a film, well apart from Matrix: Reloaded, anyway. I’ve quite a fan of Bullock, and there are some very fine actors supporting her here (including Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt). The idea behind the story is quite brilliant, and even with the bad writing it manages to create some real tension and suspense, and keeps you guessing (albeit this is largely due to illogical plot events) - this is the only reason why it gets even two stars.

Sandra Bullock is an Executive Producer, and I guess the production overall is pretty good. Although the cliffhanger ending is perhaps even worse than that in Final Analysis, and I hadn’t thought that was even possible.

The fact that Cassie is so unwilling to accept what the evidence seems to be saying doesn’t seem to have a particular reason behind it, although since it’s all on a hunch I suppose that can be forgiven. Worse, there is no apparent reason why Sam is so unbelievably forgiving of her, particularly since he didn’t know her before. Even worse than that, she directly disobeys a direct order from a superior officer without so much as a proper reprimand – even with him standing right over her as she does it. Is this simply because she’s a woman, or have I missed something here?

Oh, and the psychology, such as it is, doesn’t ring particularly true either. Again it’s not as bad as Matrix Reloaded, but still bad.

Okay, the good points, now that I’ve ripped the film to shreds… yes there are some… well, two actually:

The forensic details seem well-researched and are interesting. In fact, during the parts of the film where the murder is being planned and the detectives are trying to piece together all the clues, I could actually forgive the other inconsistencies of the film.

And the interrogation scenes are quite well-done and suspenseful.

I haven’t told you very much about the actual plot since it’s not worth the telling. It has good moments, but these punctuate the bad ones rather than the other way round. I’m not much of a fan of murder mysteries anyway, but I know a good film when I saw one.

I didn’t see one when I saw this.

For Bullock fans in search of a good film, may I suggest:

Two Weeks Notice
Miss Congeniality

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