By Racheal Deahl
Alfred Hitchcock must have assumed that experimental theories work best in experimental films; how else can you explain Rope. The inimitable director’s 1948 flop about a pair of homosexual lovers who commit a murder simply to see if they can get away with it, was shot in one take. With the use of mounted camera, Hitchcock set out to make a film without any cuts (though there are approximately three camera angle changes throughout). Based loosely on the Leopold and Loeb case, Rope is an impressive, if ultimately unsuccessful film. A cat and mouse game between the murderers and their revered college professor (who acts the detective), Rope reinforces the notion that cinema was meant to be a fractured medium and that movie killers are usually more interesting when propelled by motives as opposed to theories.
Like Rope, Murder By Numbers is fueled by the murderous deed of two young killers who commit their crime for the thrill of it. Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt play two spoiled high schoolers who decide to attempt the perfect crime for no real reason other than it’s something to do. The jock and the geek, Gosling’s narcissistic and megalomaniac psychopath pairs with Pitt’s soft-spoken genius. Following their twisted game from the start, Murder By Numbers isn’t whodunit, but rather, a “how done it.” As Sandra Bullock’s bitchy and guarded tough-guy detective detects, the teens recount their expertly planned dirty work and attempt to escape capture.
From Bullock’s transparent “I’m an angry woman because I’ve been hurt in the past” character, everything in Murder By Numbers isn’t quite as subtle or interesting as it needs to be. The teenage killers are linked by a strange but unexplored homoerotic bond and the theory for the murder itself is dismissive and trite (a vague one, repeated throughout, involving bravery and Darwinism); Murder By Numbers lays out its wares respectably but is finally unable to do anything interesting with them.
Without the aid of a mystery, Murder By Numbers focuses on the science of the boys’ crime. Of course the science isn’t all that interesting when you really get down to it. The killer teens take care to ensure none of their hair gets on the body. They make sure a hair or two from the schlub they frame for the murder (a pot dealing janitor from their school played by Chris Penn) does get on the body. They time their alibis perfectly. So on and so forth. These steps, while mildly interesting, don’t amount to criminal genius or the meat of a two-hour film. Timed and executed like an episode of Law & Order, Murder By Numbers is an adequately orchestrated story executed without much originality and even less heart.