a critiQal film review The Number 23 (2007)

Plot: When his wife buys him a book for his birthday, dog catcher Walter Sparrow (Carrey) is unimpressed. As he reads the book, however, he begins to discover that he and the degenerate main character share some remarkable similarities. As Walter continues to read, and both he and the main character began obsessing about the number 23, the main character commits a horrible crime...and Walter becomes convinced he's fated to follow the same path.

Reviewed
769 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 50s)

While a Jim Carrey comedy is a not-miss DVD event in our house, his more dramatic roles don’t receive the same reception. While I like seeing what he can do in more dramatic roles (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), The Truman Show (1998), etc.), she hated Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), so is a little more wary when it comes to Carrey’s dramatic turns. So, when The Number 23 came out, I definitely wanted to check out…but Heather wasn’t so sure, so we skipped it’s theatrical run.

Now that it’s on DVD, however, she took less convincing, and I picked it up for us from our local Blockbuster®. So, would The Number 23 be her 2nd Carrey disappointment (thus increasing her trepidation of his dramatic roles), or would it show that Carrey could still entertain both of us, even in a more dramatic film?

Jim Carrey, long known for his comedic endeavors, has managed to keep himself in the running for more serious parts by taking on a dramatic role every so often. Heck, he’s even garnered national acclaim for his portrayal of Andy Kaufman in Man On The Moon. And his portrayal in The Number 23 again strengthens his dramatic chops…and again increases his repertoire, as it’s his first psychological thriller. His portrayal of a man sinking into paranoia is haunting, as he manages to pull the viewer into his paranoia despite their best efforts to resist. As his paranoia deepens, the viewer is drawn further in, until they are so caught up in the film they miss clues that seem obvious in retrospect.

Just like the obsession being played out on-screen, the filmmakers face a similar obsession: Aside from brief moments from Virginia Madsen (Candyman), Jim Carrey is the only focus of the film – and everyone else is unimportant, just bit players on Jim’s stage. While this works well for The Number 23 since it somewhat subtly reinforces the obsession idea (while giving more screen time for Carrey to draw the viewers in deeper into his ordered chaos), it does shortchange the other actors, as the viewer bears them little more than a passing glance, so can barely remember the other characters in the film even as the credits role.

The Number 23 starts off rather simply and seems, at it’s start, a rather dull film (evoking a comparison to another despised film of hers, Punch-Drunk Love (2002)). As the movie progresses, and Carrey’s character descends further and further into paranoia, the viewer becomes more and more intrigued. Not so much with the novel the character is relating to, but more to Carrey’s performance. This leaves the viewer a bit detached and able to speculate a little on the bigger picture. As the film hits it’s stride, however, the viewer suddenly finds himself immersed in the film, and can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner. And, even though they are expecting a twist, when the twist comes they find themselves blindsided. After the twist -and the recriminations of it – the viewer is again able to distance themselves a bit from the film, just in time for the film to wind down.

With a dull beginning and a rather boring ending, The Number 23 could have become just another wannabe in the psychological thriller wasteland. Combined with Carrey’s gripping performance, the slow buildup to the surprise twist of the film is made much more bearable. In fact, the viewer will be riveted to their seat for most of the film – and won’t realize how wrapped up in the film they’ve become until the film lets them go just prior to the end.

The Number 23 can count both Heather and myself among it’s fans. Despite being a skeptic concerning Carrey’s more serious role in the film at the start, Heather liked the film. With my previous positive experiences with Carrey’s off-kilter roles, The Number 23 just further cemented Jim Carrey as a real actor in my mind, despite his previous “comic” status…but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy a comedy from him every once in a while. It’s just nice to know that he’s able to bring the same viewer interest with him in most any genre he tries.

This one’s definitely worth the rental, and those of you who are a bit more paranoia-minded may want to own a copy. For the rest of us, owning is a possibility…but a 2nd look is in order, at least. After all, you’ll want to watch The Number 23 again to figure out how you missed the easy clues..and to discover the other, more hidden, clues that may have lead you to predict the outcome of the film.

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