DVD Review: Barbet Schroeder’s Murder by Numbers on Warner Home Video

Bullock plays second fiddle to Schroeder’s direction and Tovoli’s camerawork.

Murder by NumbersForget the misleading title, what’s with the unexplained baboon cameo? How about all the “kiss already” gay subtext? We know what Barbet Schroeder does best (hell, we’ve seen what tortured Catholics can do to impressionable youth in Our Lady of Assassins), so let’s just call Murder By Numbers high art in a vacuous Hollywood bubble. Meet Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) and Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt, doing his usual Lord of the Goths routine), Generation X’s answer to Leopold and Loeb. Richard is a curious fashion queen: he’s fond of leather, repulsed by pleather, and is a bigger cock tease than detective Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock). Amid silly, absinthe-induced ethics jam sessions (Doestoevsky and Nietzshe filtered through Cliffs Notes), Richard and Justin exchange enough tortured glances to suggest the meek shall inherit the earth. The film’s exteriors, shot by Luciano Tovoli (Suspiria, Single White Female), are so bleak they suggest a burgeoning apocalypse. Gosling and Pitt’s engaging performances compliment the film’s quaint pacing, forceful compositions, and Schroeder’s suggestive use of objects (naked female portraits, a copy of Rimbaud’s The Drunk Boat). Carrie is so man-crazy yet so curiously prudish (she doesn’t like to be touched above the waist) that it’s only a matter a time before old skeletons begins to rattle. With so many gasps from the past, stock detective no-no’s, and cornball character psych sessions (Sam suggests that Carrie tame her inner-freak by “looking inside herself”), it’s a shame Schroeder fails to interweave the sexual “dysfunctions” of his characters. Amid a gooey pop songs or two and ready-to-break drinking glasses, Cassie goes over forensics evidence for a crime that should have been committed by, say, a baboon. Maybe then, the unfulfilled Murder By Numbers wouldn’t have felt so by the numbers.

Image/Sound

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Murder by Numbers (the Fullscreen Edition is being sold separately) is its film-like presentation. The film’s cinematography is certainly not among Luciano Tovoli’s best though the film’s exterior sequences are remarkable to behold. Halo effects are obtrusive during many interior sequences. The 5.1 Digital Surround track fares considerably better. Both dynamic and atmospheric, the track’s range perfectly evokes Schroeder’s apocalyptic concerns.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Murder by Numbers (the Fullscreen Edition is being sold separately) is its film-like presentation. The film’s cinematography is certainly not among Luciano Tovoli’s best though the film’s exterior sequences are remarkable to behold. Halo effects are obtrusive during many interior sequences. The 5.1 Digital Surround track fares considerably better. Both dynamic and atmospheric, the track’s range perfectly evokes Schroeder’s apocalyptic concerns.

Extras

Aside from the film’s theatrical trailer and some cast and crew filmographies, the major sell here is the commentary track by director Barbet Schroeder and editor Lee Percy. The track is noticeably dry at times though both men discuss Tovoli’s cinematography at length, delving into the unique two-camera system used during filming and its impact on the editing process.

Overall

Bullock plays second fiddle to Schroeder’s direction and Tovoli’s camerawork. As such, this handsome DVD edition should be a hard sell.

Score: 
 Cast: Sandra Bullock, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pitt, Agnes Bruckner, Chris Penn, R.D. Call, Ben Chaplin, Tom Verica, Krista K. Carpenter, Joe La Piana, Michel Paulson, Michael Samluk  Director: Barbet Schroeder  Screenwriter: Tony Gayton  Distributor: Warner Home Video  Running Time: 120 min  Rating: R  Year: 2002  Release Date: September 24, 2002  Buy: Video

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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