Murders are committed for love, money, hatred, justice or revenge -- but not usually as an intellectual exercise. Yet Álex de la Iglesia approaches such a string of deaths in "The Oxford Murders," adapted from mathematician Guillermo Martinez's novel. Elijah Wood and William Hurt have magnificent chemistry and give excellent performances, but the script has a lot of flab.
Martin (Wood) is a young American student at Oxford who is writing his thesis; he hopes to have the famous mathematician Arthur Seldom (John Hurt) advise him... only to have his hopes dashed.
But when Seldom visits the house where he is boarding, the two men find Martin's landlady dead -- and while at first it appears to be natural causes, the police discover that she was murdered. And when Seldom reveals that he was sent a strange message warning him about the murder, he and Martin begin speculating that they're dealing with an "intellectual serial killer."
At the same time, Martin finds himself in an odd love triangle between his landlady's neurotic daughter (Julie Cox) and a sexy Spanish nurse (Leonor Watling). But his mind is fixed on unraveling the pattern that may lead him and Seldom to the murderer -- and the greatest puzzle is one that no one may be able to figure out.
Pythagorus, the principle of uncertainty, sequential math and mathematical order versus chaos. "The Oxford Murders" feels a bit like a mathematical episode of "Masterpiece Theatre" -- vast venerable colleges, the tangled motives, and some seemingly impossible murders.And the idea of murder warnings based on sequential mathematics is a fascinating one...
... which becomes a problem, because we end up with endless, pompous discussions about truth, reality and philosophy. Eventually you just want to scream at Seldom, "Get off your butt and go detect!"
Álex de la Iglesia cloaks the movie in pale light and a bleak greyness broken by brief spatters of color, and occasionally drops in some more explosive scenes (a rather clever incident involving two buses). Unfortunately, the plot has quite a bit of flab -- Martin's romance with Lorna doesn't really add anything to the plot except a sex scene involving pasta, and his demented classmate doesn't add much more.
But there is a saving grace. Wood and Hurt are absolutely magnificent together as the yin and yang of this investigation -- one is an idealistic, somewhat naive young student, and the other is an embittered, icy old man who apparently takes a weird delight in stirring others up. Cox is a crazy-eyed mass of nerves, and Watlin is just... there. And for some reason both of them are instantly ravenous for Wood.
"The Oxford Murders" is one part murder mystery, one part mathematics, and one part deadly boring philosophical debate that screeches the plot to a halt. A flawed movie with some fascinating, glittering facets.
This is a great film to add to your collection of mysteries. It is up there with Christy and Sayers. All the elements are there and blend well.
The actors are well chosen to match the characters and the acting is bang on. The sets were perfect and not distracting from the story.
There are several approaches one can take while telling a story. One is like Tony Hillerman who usually has two parallel stories that have characters periodically crossing each other and may not converge in the end. The other is the worlds within worlds approach as with the book "Sophie's World" or the film "The Thirtieth Floor" (1999). This story was more standard mystery with the usual suspects that all could be guilty. All the clues are there and the butler does not come out of the closet just before the end. Yet in the end, we get not one twist but a series of plausible twists. Leave it to a Mathematician.
In the film we get a statement "I believe in Pi" this give away the armatureness of the math section of the film as everyone in industry knows the ' Pi (~.7854816) is the formula to convert form one geometric figure to another look it up. You do not need a calculator if you remember 7854 in your head.
The story starts with a famous woman being murdered, no doubt, about it, two people find the body and a mysterious mathematical clue points to possible future murders. Can the clues be deciphered using a mathematically attitude and future murders prevented; or will we have to rely on good old-fashioned detective skills?
Be sure to watch again to see what clues you may have missed.
The Oxford Murders is a quasi-sophisticated murder mystery attempting to combine philosophical mathematics with a series of murders. The movie has the feel of an attempt to emulate the Da Vinci Code without the action and excitement. The writer of the script clearly misused chaos theory in professor Seldom's lecture. Being able to predict hurricanes has nothing to do with the limitations of mathematics as the script would have us believe, but is rather a failure of our inability to gather enough data points to the precise measurement that is required to make those calculations. Anyway, This is a murder mystery who-dun-it. As such it is best just to list the characters then to speak profusely about the plot:
Martin (Elijah Wood) is an American at Oxford wanting to be sponsored by the famous Arthur Seldom. He is a border at Ms. Eagleton.
Arthur Seldom, retired professor, author of philosophical mathematics. WWII decoder.
Mrs. Eagleton- Wife of a colleague of Seldom's. She is in a wheel chair, terminal, and the first victim. Her husband and Mrs. Seldom died in an auto accident some time ago. Seldom apparently rejected Mrs. Eagleton as a would be lover/ second wife as he prefers younger women, although they remained close friends.
Beth, Ms. Eagleton's daughter and caretaker. She inherits her mother's wealth. She is in love with Martin, throws herself at him, and he rejects her. She plays a cello and is clearly unbalanced, imagining a relationship with Martin that does not exist.
The guy who studies with Martin- He is also a bit crazy. He hates Seldom and claims his ideas have been stolen. For some reason his lips clearly don't match what he is saying most of the time.
Nurse- She works in a hospital that Arthur Seldom goes to frequently to visit old sick colleagues. She throws herself at Martin and they become lovers. Later we find out she was once Arthur Seldom's lover. She is familiar with his work and writes murder mysteries.
Crazy guy- He believes Jesus came back to revenge his death. He is clearly unbalanced. His daughter is dying in the hospital in need of a lung transplant, but there are no matching donors. He hangs out in the same hospital as the nurse and Seldom and buys books on Pythagorean society.
All the characters are interconnected and it would easy to assign a motive to each one. There are very minor clues or hints as to what is happening, although nothing that would completely tip who the murderer is...or does it? I will give you a clue that may help you try to figure out what is happening, one scene fuels the next one although it may not seem to. It is a butterfly effect, which is what the "genius" of this film is about or maybe it is about mathematicians should never write murder mysteries.
Nudity, sexual scenes, and language.
on April 19, 2011
Well, I expected more from this cast.
First off, this is a fairly masked rip-off of Dan Brown. Symbology, professors and grad students saving the world (or something like it), and how intellectuals are really like you and I - only better.
The plot... wasn't bad. They get a star for that. The narrative moved along fairly swiftly, and the actual story was pretty engaging. However, the whole narrative centers around one cryptic series of symbols that Wood must decipher in order to stop a string of horrible murders. This leads him on a chase around Oxford, fighting to find the clues he needs to stop the horrible events from transpiring.
I won't give any more of the plot away, but when it all falls down, I personally was left a little more than disappointed. This plot had so much potential, and not even the fairly well-versed cast could save it when it started on a downward spiral.
Now, I know common movie review ettiqute points at the actors for not fulfilling the vision of the writer and director, but I don't hold much against the cast here. This was a writing problem, and the plot should have been addressed much more thoroughly before it headed to production.
In any case, it's good for a watch if you don't have much else to do, but don't bump anything else in your 'to be seen' pile for it.