Time: 120 mins.
There's very little unique or engaging about this by-the-book suspense thriller. Our villains are clearly based on Leopold and Loeb, two of America's earliest and most reviled murderers who killed another teenage boy just to see if they could get away with the crime. It's easy to understand why Bullock would choose to take part in this film. Very few roles exist these days for women that require more than a pretty face and as homicide detective Cassie Mayweather she gets to showoff both her brains and brawn to a degree. Unfortunately, the plot doesn't require enough from her or the audience to make the experience a memorable one. There's never any mystery because we know from the beginning that Richard (Gosling), the handsome, rich kid, and Justin (Pitt), the brilliant loner, are behind the murder. It doesn't take Cassie long to figure this out either the clues fall into place too easily to sit well with her but no one believes her theory that they purposefully killed an innocent woman because they were bored.
Her new partner/lover Sam (Chaplin) wants to believe the evidence, as does her boss who refuses to arrest the son of the richest man in town based solely on one of her hunches. Though officially pulled off the case, she continues to gather evidence against the boys, knowing that the only reason they committed the murder was to prove they are smarter than everyone else, including the police. Everyone believes that her past she was involved in a brutal crime herself is clouding her judgment. Something these two young men use to their advantage. However, they underestimate our scrappy police detective. She survived her tussle with one punk ass bastard and she's not about to let her demons come between the killers and justice. These boys may be smart and completely amoral, but their arrogance and fear can be used against them.
While the film focuses on the actual solving of the murder, it's actually quite interesting. When it strays to the strident interaction between the boys, Cassie and her fellow co-workers it becomes less so. What's compelling about her character is that she's not some super detective, but a damaged woman who uses her instincts, intelligence and experience to uncover the truth about this case. Unfortunately, the storytelling never generates the requisite fear and suspense needed to make this more than an average thriller. Shielding the identity of the killer(s), at least until the halfway point, would have given this mystery more shock value and the necessary element of surprise. Bullock's vulnerable, yet tough performance and unrelenting perseverance pulls us along as she desperately tries to catch these boys, I just wish I was more excited by the experience. MURDER BY NUMBERS is well-crafted, well-acted, and intelligently written; it just lacks the bite and grit to make it memorable.