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Laramie Movie Scope:
Murder by Numbers

Murder to relieve boredom

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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April 23, 2002 -- "Murder by Numbers" is a fictional tale which is based on the famed 1924 murder case of Leopold and Loeb. The story also bears some resemblance to a real murder depicted in the 1987 made-for-TV movie "Billionaire Boys Club." The new film benefits from good performances and a plot that includes some moral complexity, good character development and a complex heroine.

Sandra Bullock of "Miss Congeniality" stars as that complex heroine, Cassie Mayweather, a veteran crime scene investigator with a troubled past. Cassie is smart, witty, tough and talented, but emotionally fragile under her tough façade. Cassie, nicknamed "hyena" because of her sexual predatory habits, is after her new, young partner, Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin of "The Thin Red Line") as they try to solve a puzzling murder case. The body of a young woman is found in a remote area. There are few clues. The evidence seems to add up to a textbook serial killer profile, a little bit too much like a textbook case, Cassie thinks.

It turns out a couple of smart high school students read a textbook on police investigative techniques and planted the clues to throw investigators off the trail. The students, Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch") and Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling of "Remember the Titans"), have committed a murder because they are bored with life. Their idea is to commit the "perfect murder" and to have some fun with the police investigators. Justin, a brilliant student who has read too much Nietzsche for his own good, believes that people are only free if make their own rules and commit crimes. Richard is just a rich, bored sociopath looking for thrills. One piece of evidence left purposefully by the pair leads back to Richard, a pair of expensive boots he bought.

Once Cassie meets Richard her instincts tell her that he knows more than he is saying about those boots and about the murder case. Even though the evidence, including the boots, leads Cassie away from the boys, she stays after them. The investigation is slow-moving, but interesting. The relationship between Cassie and Sam heats up too. Sam begins to look into Cassie's background, trying to figure out why she is behaving so strangely. It turns out there is something about this case that haunts Cassie because it reminds her of her own past.

The film isn't an emotional thriller like "Silence of the Lambs," but it does have some interesting, smart characters. Some will not like this film because it doesn't offer easy answers. It doesn't have the usual, pat Hollywood ending. It is emotionally and morally ambiguous and complex. Bullock gives a very good performance in a difficult role. She demonstrates a wide range of emotions and illuminates a complex character. Gosling and Pitt are also good as they play out their own complex relationship, with some sexual overtones. It seemed to me Chaplin's performance was a little weak. He seemed to fade out next to the intensity of Bullock's screen presence. The film is pretty slow-moving, and it doesn't have much in the way of suspense or drama. It is more of a character study, and an interesting one at that. It rates a C+.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)