The Number Game

Sandra Bullock plays indifferent in this psychological thriller.

"Society cannot exist without suicide and crime".

This is the causal tenet, which fuels a film that shows you just how to construct the perfect social structure.

Two affluent high school kids from a coastal town in California make a secret pact in a ramshackle house on a promontory. They hold guns to their heads and get ready to explode into the ether out of which their radical theories germinated.

Richard Haywood (Ryan Gosling) and Justin Pendleton (Michael Pitt) are two extremes of the teenage spectrum - one, a school superstar, the other, a lone brooder who could well fit the paradigm of the mad scientist. And while each is publicly anonymous to the other, the underside sees them conspire a diabolical plan. They plan the perfect murder.

Investigating this perpetrated murder is homicide detective and crime scene specialist Cassie Mayweather (Sandra Bullock), with newly assigned partner Sam Kennedy (Ben Chaplin). The detectives gather clues and build a criminal profile, but while one works by the book, the other beats it.

What makes this a better crime film than most in its bracket is its scandalous soul. Based on a philosophy that downsizes the exaggerated effect of crime, especially murder, the film is a first-class ticket on the simplicity of a well-planned wrong.

A screenplay by Tony Gayton is as fascinatingly forward today with its easy element of wrong done right, as in the brilliantly decadent formula of "A Simple Plan". Barbet Schroeder of "Desperate Measures" turns up the cold, with likely locations (the house on the hill doesn’t get more creepy than this), and gives you enough light with dark, and tension with reprieve, to stay balanced between an all-out thriller and a wry crime flick.

Bullock wore me out with her straitjacketed role of a cop with a bad past who works by instinct. A face that is fairly plastic, she exerts a stony effect to her role, which, in all its misanthropy, could still do with a little elasticity. Gosling does well as the stereotypical narcissist and psychopath, but I was riveted by Pitt, who wore his performance as a sullen sociopath like a merit badge on the lapels of his blacks and greys.


This article was first published on 10 Aug 2002.