The Number 23
Studio: Warner Bros.
US Rating: Unrated
Film Length: 98 Minutes (Theatrical Cut), 101 Minutes (Unrated Cut)
Video: 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 2.40:1
Audio: Dolby DTS-HD: English 6.1
Subtitles: English SDH
Release Date: October 6, 2009
Review Date: October 11, 2009
“I once read that the only philosophical question that matters is whether or not to commit suicide... I guess that makes me a philosopher”
The Film: 4 out of 5
The ordinary life of Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) drifts into a paranoia fueled tailspin when he begins to read a strange little book given to him on his birthday. As he reads, he finds similarities between himself and the troubled character, Fingerling, in the book. With the uncanny resemblances to events from his life growing up and the insidious power of the number 23, a ‘dangerous’ number that turns up with surprising frequency and ominous coincidence, he begins to suspect the number is a curse on his life. As he fights the rampant persistence of the number and a growing disparity with the calm of his family life, Sparrow travels a dark road of obsession and a fixation on the enigmatic power of a number.
With ringing overtones of the gritty 8MM, Director Joel Schumacher creates some fascinating cinematic worlds in this film. First is that of the ordinary, seemingly happy world of the Sparrow family followed by the changing, distorted and noir-esque worlds of the narrated book within the film. Working from a script by first time screenwriter Fernley Phillips, Schumacher demonstrates a great sense of the material and the characters that become embroiled in the ‘mythic’ peculiarity of the number ‘23’. The storytelling of The Number 23 takes on a couple of forms, shifting between voice over narration as Sparrow reads the book (imaging himself and those in his life as the characters within that book with interesting visual sequences) and a more typical approach for Sparrow’s real life.
Working with Jim Carrey for the first time since the semi-successful Batman Forever, this genre hopping director of such notable films as The Lost Boys and Tigerland creates in Carrey a central figure that offers a humanity and ‘regular’ guy dashed with the spears of paranoid suspicion and obsession. He also crafts a grindingly murky alter-ego for Carrey to play, that of Fingerling, the strange main character that exists within the confines of the books. Jim Carrey explores all levels of the emotional spectrum in this film, flexing considerable dramatic muscles, proving that he can stand shoulder to shoulder with those individuals that more readily spring to mind when you think of serious actors. Playing opposite Carrey is Virginia Madsen, wife and emotional anchor to Sparrow. Her Agatha Sparrow character and her ‘character’ in the book, Fabrizia, are remarkably focused, driving equally taut counterpoints to each other, much like Carrey. So good are the performances from Carrey and Madsen that they easily help this film stand out from the crowd of recent thrillers.
While The Number 23 is an excellently crafted film, there is one element of concern and that is with the stylistic approach adopted. Perhaps it is the result of style-saturation from filmmakers such as Tony Scott and the like, who take the fast flashing and sharp editing techniques to ever-discombobulating levels, but Schumacher doesn’t seem to totally commit to this more kinetic, frenzied technique, leaving some sequences with an unfinished quality, lacking that ‘style’ follow through. Again, I could be lulled into an expectation of style-overload by more recent trends, but at times it feels like a ‘tried and almost achieved’ approach to certain scenes.
There is a great deal to appreciate in this clever paranoiac thriller, especially the noir detective elements and Jim Carrey’s totally believable, fearless and electric performance. The Number 23 is a refreshingly original film, thrilling and entirely re-watchable. Multiple viewings will allow the peeling away of the layers and a further appreciation of the performances, production design and even Harry Gregson-William’s perfectly suited score.
The Video: 4 out of 5
Originally released under the New Line Cinemas infinifilm banner, this release of The Number 23 for the first time in High Definition is really quite good, though not the pristine, shiny looking film some may expect from a blu-ray release. The image is, rather, subdued, but retains its film look with intact grain and a refreshing lack of flash for a thriller. The restrained colors are punctuated throughout by objects and other things that are striking red. A coat, Christmas hats, a wall, the book cover – all bold and striking red creatively placed throughout the film. The 2:35.1 original aspect ratio image is very good, blacks are deeply saturated and the overall picture quality contains good details. There is a beautiful clarity to the image and the muted colors that are part of the palette of the film and story.
The Number 23 is a dark film, and not always perfect, but the contrasts in the film, between the real world and the scenes in the book are strong, the whites especially during the ‘suicide blonde’ scenes are gorgeous. There is a little softness in the image, but it is halo free and there are no obvious signs of edge enhancement. This High Definition version represents a slight improvement over an already very solid DVD release.
The Sound: 4 out of 5
The Number 23 comes with a Dolby DTS-HD: English 6.1 that thunders and thumps the subwoofer during the fantasy sequences – and over the pulsing opening credits. With a brooding bass that ably rumbles through the sub-woofer, the film certainly has the boom down! The surrounds are active and directional surround is nicely handled, though not as completely as the 6.1 could have handled. The dialogue is clean and Harry Gregson-Williams score, that mixes a smoky noir-detective vibe with a techno thrill, creates a rousing and convincing ambience.
The Extras: 3.5 out of 5
Audio Commentary with Director Joel Schumacher: Commenting that this film was actually his 23rd direction job, Joel Schumacher provides a relaxed, comfortable and informing commentary for his deeply interesting film. While he drops off a little shy of the ending, he manages to remain interesting and constantly appreciative of the talents of both his cast and crew and of the art of filmmaking.
16 deleted + Alternate scenes (included an alternate opening and ending): (14:28) – This collection of scenes excised from the final cut (and even the unrated version) offers a little more explanation in to how Sparrow was able to take so much time to become obsessed with the book and the number, as well as a little more fleshing out of the lighthearted nature of his character. Most of them are superfluous to the core of the story and, while some are curious, most are not missed in the final presentation.
The Making of The Number 23: (22:17) – With interviews with the producer, screenwriter, director and some of the cast. This is a good set of conversations dissecting the film and the characters. The screenwriter explains some of the creative evolution the story took from the page to the screen also.
Creating the World of Fingerling: (11:08) – This feature covers the look of the film, especially that of the narrated world of ‘Fingerling’. Covering the art concepts, lighting and effects used, this is a good little discussion on the ‘why’, not just the ‘how’.
Trailers: The Number 23 Theatrical Trailer (2:28)
"The Number 23 Enigma" Documentary :(25:00) – This is a pretty interesting feature, adding dimension to the ideas raised by the film. It feels a little like a sci-fi pseudo documentary at times, exploring the myths and oddities associated with the number 23. It also covers a lot of ground, from the mathematical magic associated with numbers to the wealth of ideas associated with numerology that have been raised and discussed for thousands for years. This is good stuff and a perfect companion to the film.
“How to Find Your Life Path Numbers” Featurette: (11:01) – A little odd at times, but fun none-the-less as we are given an explanation to the meaning behind life path numbers and how to figure out your own ‘life-path’ number.
Fact Track Trivia: This feature, which plays along with the infinifilm feature, provides a subtitle track of trivia at various points during the film. It’s a little bit like VH1’s Pop-Up Video, but without the sense of fun and tongue in cheek mockery.
The Number 23 is an impressive and engrossing thriller. The highly original story is complimented by wonderful performances; most notably Jim Carrey’s emotionally laid bare Sparrow/Fingerling portrayal. This is a dark tale of obsession and paranoia that carefully adds layers of mystery and intrigue with literary flights of darkness into the narrated world of Fingering. The tight script, exemplary performances and the muted look and feel of the film all come together to form an exciting and unconventional thriller.
I am fascinated by the originality – though it is admittedly hoaky when you subject it to serious examination and deconstruction – it still manages to give you pause. The Number 23 was met by little favor from critics, and little success at the box office – a reaction that is ill-fitting for what this movie offers. If you saw it and dismissed it, I urge you to experience it again and am certain you will be able to better appreciate the original story, and the original nature of how it unfolds. If you have yet to see this film, this blu-ray release is the perfect opportunity to take a chance on an unusual, and wholly satisfying thriller.
Overall 4 out of 5