When I added The Oxford Murders to my list, I couldn’t remember if I’d seen it already or not. Then I realized that the cover does look somewhat like The Skulls (which I DO KNOW I’ve seen). Writing that here probably makes me sound like an ass because the version of the cover I grabbed for this post VERY CLEARLY does not look like The Skulls cover - so you'll just have to trust me on this one. Okay - on to a review.
The basics go like this:An American student (played by Elija Wood - we'll come back to this in a moment) moves to England to study under a famous mathematician (played by the AMAZING John Hurt). This plan goes slightly awry when he realizes the home he's staying in is hiding a dysfunctional family situation that soon turns into a murder. It seems the murder is just the first in a string of serial killings. He and the mathematician become entangled in an attempt to solve the murder. Despite how hard the filmmakers tried to build a web of coincidences that would cast enough doubt to make things seem conspiratorial, any shrewd mystery fan will have this one solved before the movie really even gets going.
Doing a little poking around, it seems that The Skulls and The Oxford Murders have something else in common: they are equally disliked on the internet (where all things are known and true, of course.) Can't say that I really disagree here with the internet but, I will say that I didn't absolutely hate The Oxford Murders - I actually found it sort of charming and a little endearing. Solidly in the plus column, the cast is immensely talented.
Elija Wood is strangely likable while being painfully awkward and sort of… out of place in every world he falls into. He has this (natural?) way of speaking in an almost Shakespearean rhythm. I think he's actually a better actor than we may give him credit for. That's not to say he should be up for an Oscar or anything, but his performance certainly isn't the biggest flaw in the movie.
The biggest problem I ran up against is that I think the director’s history of making black comedies kind of “taints” this movie; there are these strange moments that seem like they may on the verge of turning into a joke but then come up just short of it.
I suspect that my fellow movie-blogger friend at I Watched It On Purpose would loving call this one a “British stereotype mystery;" if you were to imagine the absolute, by the book, definitively perfect British, who-done-it story loaded with every trope and character - Oxford Murders is what you would have imagined. Some reviews call it boring - I think the word they were looking for is actually “pedestrian.”
One of the truly weird tropes (or maybe it's just a cultural thing) that gets me about these British who-done-its is that cops just BELIEVE people when they claim to be innocent AND they seem to accept that coincidences are just that. It makes me think, "Columbo would never accept that shit." And then I wonder, "how the hell do they EVER solve ANY of their cases?"
I won't actually end by trying to sway you one way or the other on watching this one - but I will say it's not really a great match for the horror crowd. Folks with a hankering for an uncomplicated murder mystery, on the other hand, may enjoy it.
Watch it if: you're out of episodes of Miss Fisher to watch. (Also - why is that series over? I want to watch it all day, every day, for the rest of my life.)
You can watch The Oxford Murders trailer here:
You can pick up a copy of The Oxford Murders here: