If it's crap ... We'll tell you
The world that the surprising success of the books of Dan Brown left in its wake is a very different one. While "The DaVinci Code" and "Angels and Demons" had a very erudite protagonist in Robert Langdon, the actual intellectual content of the books, and even his completely fictional profession as a 'symbologist', has come under no small amount of critique. No matter how the literary critical world responded to the series, it was the illusion that the reader was having an educational experience while being embroiled in an exciting adventure that sold millions upon millions of copies. No such illusions are to be found with director Alex de la Iglesia's "The Oxford Murders", based on the novel by the Argentinian mathematician and novelist Guillermo Martinez. Well, maybe the 'exciting adventure' part.
Elijah Wood plays Martin, an American student who has just arrived at Oxford University and is trying to track down the famed mathematician and philosopher, Arthur Seldom (John Hurt) in order to get him to be his thesis supervisor. Even though Martin idolizes Seldom, the two come to loggerheads in their discussions about absolute truth. You can see that this is already going to be an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones, eh? Coming back to the house where he is renting a room one day, Martin runs into Arthur coming in as well to meet up with Martin's landlady who turns out to have been murdered. A note that Arthur received that led him to come there referred to the crime as 'the first in a series' and so, the two heady academics put their heads together, occasionally banging them against each other, in the attempt to catch the killer before the body count gets too high.
I'm enormously at awe of Iglesia for managing to get the funding to put a story like this on screen. It's an enormously brave decision to make the film, so much so, I'd call it foolhardy. There's not a lot of excitement to be found here, unless listening to discussions about Wittgenstein's Rule-Following Paradox and Gödel's incompleteness theorems as applied to the context of murder sounds like riveting viewing to you. To be completely honest, I thought it was all pretty fascinating, even though I can admit that I was pretty far from capable of following all of its pedantic surmises, and I consider myself a fan of this sort of thing. It's not very well explained to a layman audience and the passion that the characters seem to experience talking about it, just leaves the audience cold.
Therein lies the biggest problem with this movie: its bloodlessness. Whether it's in the killer's 'imperceptible murders' all but devoid of actual violence, the downright unpleasant earnest and wide-eyed performance by Wood, or the ridiculous series of endings that are supposed to reflect the film's theme about logical series and multiple solutions, "The Oxford Murders" stops well shy of drawing anyone into its cerebral world. I love the idea of making a film LIKE this, and there's certainly enough here to make it worth a watch for fans of super-smart mysteries or higher level math, but it desperately needed a stronger set of likable and believable characters, not to mention a little action here and there. I'll take the complete bullshit of Dan Brown's world over this. At least in his scholarly fantasy, something is actually happening.
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