A story of detailed obsession, Joel Schumacher's The Number 23 is a periodical odyssey of one man's escalation into the dark corridors of insanity. There are many things to applaud here, and I think avid readers of dark fiction will be smart enough to embrace what I think is a stylish and sophisticated tour.
The Number 23 was always going to receive some negative attention. Just mentioning the Director's name is enough to illicit a groan from some quarters. And with Jim Carrey playing the lead role I'd bet scalpels were being sharpened at the ready, leading some viewers to perform an artistic vivisection while the scenes played out before them. That said, I think Jim Carrey has played enough dramatic roles that anybody worth their salt will know he's capable of practically anything . . . including the part of Walter Sparrow, an animal control employee who stumbles onto a manuscript that will change his life forever.
Happily married to Agatha (Virginia Madsen of Candyman fare) and father to teenage son Robin (Logan Leerman) Walter's dimension is radically altered when he hesitantly starts to read the novel 'The Number 23' by Top Secrets. The premise of the book - almost every malign occurrence or mundane event in one's history can be traced to a number (in this case 23) - is something that carries a lot of weight, both in the film and in our everyday lives. One can find evidence of this uncanny strange order to chaos almost everywhere: the hidden cracks of superstition still rears unrelenting today after the advents of 9/11. The number of so-called 'coincidences' linked to that day and numbers almost defy logic . . . and yet the irrational mind, like a tongue returning to cavity, will always come back to hidden significance and what it all means. Upon venturing further into the book this all becomes frighteningly real for Walter as the red manuscript delivers what it promised: a heart wrenching novel into paranoia.
The movie seems to be a fictional nod to the 'pulp fiction' style detective magazines of the sixties. Everything is daubed in ethereal tones like a faded issue of Stephen King's The Colorado Kid. Close-ups are smeary as though the camera lens is salved with Vaseline. I really enjoyed this aspect of it, and you can tell the producers and would have had a lot of fun in the editing room. Another interesting facet is the way the story is told, with the characters playing characters, often with a much darker edge; a nuance used in what must literally be thousands of films. Then we have Jim Carrey or Walter 'narrating' these gritty chapters and I sometimes thought this might be a film for us 'readers' out there. You know - the types who will always hold the written word above the moving picture? Writers, perhaps? When Virginia Madison's character says to her husband: Almost every time I read book it's like the author stole a piece of me only I knew, I smiled knowingly. And this one:
'What are you doing, honey?'
'Are you insane?'
As a reviewer I cannot recommend this film to everybody; some will go out of their way to point out factual errors and the often tedious way we are ushered through it. There is a wearisome treasure-hunt involving all members of the family and the guesswork involved can ultimately be ugly. But if, like me, you're an individual who feels upset we live in a day and age knowing how a magician provides the illusions . . . then sit back and enjoy a very dark ride.