Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Oxford Murders (2008)

I vaguely recall the very brief reviews that were published when this film was released here, which from memory were kinda poor, as are most of the comments on IMDb, so I was unprepared for my very favourable reaction to what I found to be a literate and intelligent mystery. Directed and co-written by Alex de la Iglesia, who has made some of the most unusual semi-horror flicks to emerge from Spain over the past fifteen years, this was his first English-language production and remained true to his love of the grotesque.

Elijah (Frodo) Wood plays an American graduate student who comes to Oxford University to do his mathematics doctorate under the mentoring eye of his hero John Hurt. Hurt on the other hand has given up tutoring students and now only gives the occasional lecture underlining his nihilistic philosophy; at one of these he trashes Wood's arguments when the latter tries to gain his attention, to the extent that the student is just about ready to pack up and go. However on returning to his digs at the home of eccentric Anna Massey, the widow of an Enigma code-breaker, and her unappreciated carer-daughter, he arrives at the same moment as family friend Hurt to discover Massey murdered. This begins a strange cooperation betwen the two mathematicians as they try to crack a code which they believe will lead to other random murders -- and indeed more follow (or so we are led to believe). There are any number of red herrings to puzzle police inspector Jim Carter before a final explanation is given that satisfies him, although the true answers and real culprits are only detailed at movie's end. Not having read the novel on which this film is based, I for one did not foresee the final twists.

There is a strong role for Spanish actress Leonor Watling (recognizable from several Almodovar flicks) as a hospital nurse with a sexual history with both Hurt and Wood, a sub-plot involving French actor Dominique Piton (whom I first saw in "Delicatessen" and who has one of those faces you just can't forget) as the father of a terminally ill child, and one of the most bizarre turns ever from director Alex Cox as a limbless, brain-damaged ex-colleague whom Hurt frequently visits. The film is far from perfect and logically doesn't completely hold together. However it is clever, involving, and so brilliantly acted by Hurt in particular that I have no problem in recommending it.
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