Murder by Numbers

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For the song by The Police, see Murder by Numbers (song).
Murder by Numbers
Murder by Numbers film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barbet Schroeder
Produced by Barbet Schroeder
Written by Tony Gayton
Starring Sandra Bullock
Ben Chaplin
Ryan Gosling
Michael Pitt
Music by Clint Mansell
Cinematography Luciano Tovoli
Edited by Lee Percy
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • April 19, 2002 (2002-04-19)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50 million
Box office $56,714,147

Murder by Numbers is a 2002 psychological thriller film produced and directed by Barbet Schroeder. It stars Sandra Bullock, Ben Chaplin, Ryan Gosling and Michael Pitt. It is loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb case.[2]

The film was screened out of competition at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.[3]


Richard Haywood and Justin Pendleton, two wealthy, intellectual high school students, plan to commit the "perfect murder" to prove their superiority over other people. They kill a woman and set up Richard's marijuana dealer, janitor Ray Feathers. They then incinerate the evidence. The case is assigned to Detective Cassie Mayweather and her new partner, Sam Kennedy. They work together well, and begin a romantic relationship very early on in their partnership. Footprints found at the crime scene lead to Haywood, who has an alibi. Cassie becomes obsessed with the idea that Haywood is guilty, and refuses to pursue the case from other angles. This displeases Captain Rod Cody and Cassie's vindictive ex, Assistant D.A. Al Swanson, who fear that Richard's influential parents will end their careers.

Meanwhile, Haywood kills Feathers and makes it look like suicide. Sam and Cassie fall out over differences in their professional attitudes towards the investigation, and Cody bans Cassie from pursuing the investigation further when she disobeys instructions.

Pendleton is interested in his classmate Lisa Mills, and ignores Haywood in order to go on a date with her. Haywood sees them kissing, becomes jealous, and shows Pendleton a tape of Lisa having sex with him. This enrages Pendleton, who destroys the composite photo, but regains control of his emotions and remains friends with Haywood. Determined to prove that Haywood and Pendleton are in fact guilty, Cassie secretly takes pictures of them together. However, Haywood sees her, and attempts to frighten her by seducing her. To protect herself, Cassie hits Haywood in the face. Haywood's father contacts Captain Cody, who orders Cassie to see a psychiatrist. However, Sam decides that Cassie may be right, and further investigates the case.

Cassie begins receiving phone calls from her abusive ex-husband, Carl Hudson, who was sent to prison for trying to kill her; his parole hearing is coming up, and he wants her to speak on his behalf. Cassie hangs up on him and tries to ignore the problem, but confides in Sam that she is afraid to see Hudson again. She also reveals that she joined the police department to prove to herself that she is not a victim.

Sam and Cassie bring Haywood and Pendleton in for interrogation. Using the Lisa Mills incident, they try to convince the young men to confess, bribing them with a lighter sentence. Although they know that both Haywood and Pendleton were involved in the crime, they are unsure of which of them actually killed the woman. However, neither suspect is willing to talk, and they are released.

When Haywood attempts to save himself by making a false "confession" to the DA, Cassie and Sam decide to arrest both Haywood and Pendleton immediately. The two flee to the resort, but Pendleton first visits Lisa and admits what he did. Lisa calls the police and tells them where to find Haywood and Pendleton. Meanwhile, Haywood hands Pendleton a pistol, and holds one himself, stating they will both commit suicide. However, Pendleton discovers that Haywood did not put bullets in his own gun. Cassie arrives, and tries to arrest them. Justin surrenders, but Haywood fires at Cassie but shoots Pendleton in the shoulder as he pushes her away and flees upstairs.

Cassie pursues Haywood, who tricks her into going out onto an unstable balcony. Haywood tries to strangle Cassie, but she fights back and pushes him over the railing, and he falls to his death. But, before Cassie can get back inside, the porch breaks. Pendleton saves her, and she tells him that he will likely get a light sentence.

When Cassie examines the strangulation marks on her neck, she realizes that the marks on the dead woman's neck were not made by Haywood, meaning that Pendleton was the actual killer. Cassie and Sam trick him into confessing. Cassie then testifies at the parole hearing where she is called by her real name, Jessica Marie Hudson.



Murder by Numbers, categorized as a Crime / Drama / Thriller, is rated R (under the age of 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian). The movie features violence, language, a sex scene and brief drug use.

Box office performance[edit]

The film was released April 19, 2002 in the United States and Canada and grossed $9.3 million in 2,663 theaters its opening weekend, ranking #3 at the box office.[4] The film grossed a total of $56,714,147 worldwide — $31,945,749 in the United States and Canada and $24,768,398 in other territories.[5]


Reviews for the film were generally mixed to negative. Rotten Tomatoes awarded a 31% "Rotten" based on 125 reviews, thirty-nine being "fresh" with a consensus summarizing, "A predictable police procedural that works better as a character study rather than a thriller."[6]

Roger Ebert awarded three stars out of a possible four, stating: "Bullock does a good job here of working against her natural likability, creating a character you'd like to like, and could like, if she weren't so sad, strange and turned in upon herself. She throws herself into police work not so much because she's dedicated as because she needs the distraction, needs to keep busy and be good to assure herself of her worth. As she draws the net closer, and runs into more danger and more official opposition, the movie more or less helplessly starts thinking to itself about that cliff above the sea, but at least the climax shows us that Bullock can stay in character no matter what."[7]

A. O. Scott, writing for The New York Times, said that "much of this new Barbet Schroeder film -- a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock, who is also an executive producer -- follows well-worn paths of the cops-and-psycho-killer routine." He rather snarkily describes Haywood and Pendleton as "a pair of teenage Nietzsche-heads who might be appearing in a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope for The WB network." Scott adds,

The real surprise, given the secondhand material, is that not everything proceeds by rote in Murder by Numbers, which opens today [19 April 2002] nationwide. The rickety structure of the movie's main plot sustains some clammy and fascinating psychological inquiry, and one suspects that, as in Single White Female, Mr. Schroeder's interest is less in the story than in the possibilities it affords for exercising his perverse, chilly curiosity about power, intimacy and the varieties of human distress. This movie is most interesting as a study of two parallel relationships, neither one primarily sexual (though sexuality is the subtext of one and the half-accidental consequence of the other), but both saturated with enough longing, envy, tenderness and loathing to make actual sex a bit redundant."[8]

Scott also remarks briefly on "the scene in which [Cassie] is attacked by an angry baboon. The baboon, at least, is unexpected, though also inexplicable."[8]


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