Murder By Numbers
Well I'll be damned. Murder by Numbers
. Surpise. It's good. Could've been Police Procedural by Numbers and ended up like one of those flicks like Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman are always starring in, which is what I was expecting, but it's a lot more than that. For one, the police procedural aspects, they're not dumbed down Hollywood style. For once a flick that doesn't treat the audience like a bunch of idiots who need every little thing spelled out to them. And the characters, the main ones, anyway, they're all very well developed and more complex than they need to be. Suprisingly well performed, too, given that one of them is played by Sandra Bullock who, you know, generally sucks. Not so suprising is that the performances by Michael Pitt and Ryan Gosling, especially Ryan Gosling, are superb.
The plot: two high school kids plan the perfect crime. Murder some random person and plant a bunch of evidence that will frame some other person. We learn all of this from the get-go, so there's no suspense in that department. All of our viewing pleasure derives from watching the kids and the cops fuck around with each other and watching the interactions between the characters. Gosling plays some bratty, mega-popular rich kid who knows how to use his charisma to control others. Pitt plays this Trenchcoat Mafia-type social outcast/Nietzsche scholar who spouts freshman psychology crap like "crime is the only true freedom." Why the two decide to committ their crime is left for us to speculate. Gosling, he decides to do it because he basically has nothing better to do. Pitt's reasoning is more complex. Gosling's one of the popular kids who has always ridiculed Goth Boy Pitt. When Gosling challenges him to practice what he preaches, he does so not because he really believes all that bullshit he spouts, but because it's his way of proving himself better or on par with his oppressor. Pitt is also sexually attracted to Gosling, something that Gosling picks up on and plays upon, hugging him, running his hands through his hair. It'd be easy to say that Pitt is practically forced by Gosling to commit the murder, but it's not as simple as that since Pitt is twice as smart as Gosling. It's like the charisma vs. the intellect. Which will win? That's the fun in watching.
The police investigators, they're less interesting, but also less central to the film. They're all mostly stock characters. You've got your ornery police chief, your smarmy DA, then you've got the two main ones, your rookie homicide detective, played by Ben Chaplin, paired with your hard-as-nails veteran homicide detective, Bullock, with a few psychological scars that she'll be forced to deal with as the film progresses. Been there, done that, true, but it's still fun to watch as we get to see every minute detail regarding the investigation, every bit of evidence collected. I didn't sense any dumbing-down, none of the extraneous explanatory bullshit speeches that plague most Hollywood crime films. Still, I don't know why this succeeds as well as it does since we know about all this evidence and where it's going to point before the cops do. But succeed it does. Gets even better as it goes along as the cops half-way figure out what happened, but can't prove it, so the criminals and the cops are forced to play this little mind game with each other, one trying to figure out what the other knows and the other trying to trick the one into saying something that they haven't found out yet. Good stuff. Gets even more complex than this when the cops pit one criminal against the other (after a flat-out fantastic interrogation room sequence), then they're forced to play these mind games against each other trying to figure out just what the other one is up to (all the while the charisma vs. intellect battle is still raging). Then Bullock's psychological scars are revealed and they draw parallels between her and one of the killers and shit just gets absurdly complex. I loved it.
I highly recommend this one. It may be a tad too deliberately paced for some folks, but I welcomed the added attention to detail and psychological depth, especially in a film I rented expecting to see pop trash. And Gosling's performance must be seen. Don't let the Bullock scare you off, people. Give it a rent. In terms of Barbet Shroeder's career, this one is more Reversal of Fortune
than the Single White Female
one would expect it to be.