R, 2 hrs. 1 min. Directed by: Barbet Schroeder. Release Date: Apr 19, 2002. DVD Release Date: Sep 24, 2002.
****REPOSTED FROM THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH ADDITIONAL COMMENTS/EDITS****
A well-written mystery that is unfortunately ruined by excessive foreshadowing. I think mystery is a difficult genre to do well, whether we're talking novels or movies, and it's because of the Balance. By that I mean that most mysteries, particularly most MURDER mysteries, have to walk a relatively fine line between those British-style mysteries that never seem to have a real problem, then two hundred pages (or 40 minutes) later, people are dropping like flies, and the slasher flick, where two pages (or 40 seconds) later, people are dropping like flies. Murder By Numbers, at least in my mind, is a nice balance of these elements and has a pretty awesome cast.
Murder By Numbers is a great mystery, when taken by itself. It has all the mechanics down: red herrings, a CSI-like investigative process, a damaged inspector, because we can't actually do any kind of murder mystery anymore without one of those, and an intriguing villain. Likewise on the villain.
The character work in this film is pretty decent, and I suspect that this film more than any other is what separated Ryan Gosling from other actors in his age group. He was phenomenal in this, and it's been a rare appearance since this film that I haven't thought he's made the most of his part. I can't even complain about Sandra Bullock, and I can usually complain about Sandra Bullock, mostly that whole thing where she only plays variants on a single role, over and over. It's why someone decided we needed the term ad nauseum.
While the story mechanics are well-enacted, the problem with the story is there's really not a whole lot to question. Scenes shift back and forth between the ongoing police investigation and the antagonist of the film so frequently that you're only unsure of the identity of the killer for a few minutes. While some people enjoy that kind of information being passed down the pipeline, I prefer to have the bad guy's identity sprung on me toward the end of the movie. In this case, I felt the closure was marginally anti-climactic, and what little surprise they provided wasn't enough to change the ending from sucking a bit.