Murder by Numbers’: nail-biter 101

In director Barbet Schroeder’s gritty suspense thriller “Murder by Numbers,” Sandra Bullock plays a hardened detective on the trail of a calculated killer. Schroeder’s previous work shows a penchant for dark themes. Her films include “Single White Female,” with Jennifer Jason Lee as the crazed roommate and “Barfly,” with Mickey Roark and Faye Dunnaway as depressing drunks.

“Murder by Numbers” is smart and engaging while maintaining a sinister veneer. Schroeder has managed to bring a performance out of Bullock that is anything but her perky, girl-next-door image.

Bullock plays Cassie Mayweather, a somewhat mysterious detective who has been assigned to her first case in the field. The case involves an extensively well planned murder that leaves little in the way of clues. Her performance could very easily have gone a bit over the top but she manages to make the character believable while still maintaining an air of mystery. While Bullock usually goes in for the easy performances in lame romantic comedies, this time she has chosen a film that gives her a chance to show that she does have acting ability.

Englishman Ben Chaplin looks nervous throughout most of his role as her partner. He seems to be either out of his depth or just thoroughly confused. This is surprising for an actor with his background and range. He could have simply been trying too hard to maintain his American accent and lost all control of his actual acting ability. He has no chemistry with Bullock and spends much of the film standing around like he doesn’t know what to do.

Newcomers Ryan Gosling and “Dawson’s Creek” alum Michael Pitt do an excellent job of portraying intelligent high school students with too much money and time on their hands. The boys have an incredible homoerotic chemistry that gives their friendship an interesting level. The only complaint with this film is that it does not include any same-sex love between the two perpetrators. They are obviously a match made in heaven.

Bloated “Footloose” star Chris Penn is a standout as the high school janitor and drug dealer with a big time porn habit. He gives a bit of comic relief to this nail-biter.

The suspense in the film is not heart-attack rendering but feels a lot nicer than having to watch constant blood and gore just to get some intensity.

The film could have offered up a slightly subtler plot for the sake of suspense. When the case is solved it is a little anti-climactic. The audience already knows who and how the killing was done before they are told. The point of a suspense thriller is to keep the audience in suspense. The film really just gives the viewers a play by play of the killing. However, while the story does have a few holes it manages to pull together an entertaining two hours. It certainly isn’t as good as “Murder She Wrote,” but what is?