The Oxford Murders Review

The Film

I live in Oxfordshire, and the fact of the director of The Day of the Beast, one of my favourite films, making a film here was a hell of a draw to this viewer. Alex de la Iglesia is a puckish talent whose films have been sublime, ridiculous and far from ordinary as he has ploughed a lone furrow of slapstick, blasphemy and satire. Any man who can start a film with a montage of an unassuming Catholic priest committing acts of petty vandalism and small cruelties is all right in my book.

The Oxford Murders is not what I had hoped for, and I suppose this is because it is what it tries to be - a popular whodunnit employing Oxford's tourist potential. There are moments when the project may go into less predictable waters and for viewers of Torchwood it may be a surprise to find that these are often due to the barking and twitchy performance of Burn Gorman. He may have an accent that covers the whole of Eurasia but he does seem to be the only one doing anything novel with the material on show.

The plot mixes up serial killers, maths and the fetching Leonor Watling in a nurse's uniform, but the film is mostly about the interplay between John Hurt's Arthur Seldom, a crusty, skirt chasing, cynical academic and Elijah Wood's postgraduate student and crumpet magnet. Wood's twinkly eyes are used to good effect as he plays amateur sleuth and naive fool, and Hurt gets to sound worldy wise repeating philosophical bollocks as if it were written by the bard himself. They are also part of a love triangle with Watling, and the mental image of the wrinkly Hurt as her lover is one I can't thank the film-maker for. The two actors never really connect, Wood never convinces as the Hobbit all the big girls want and despite his wonderful voice and sheer presence, Hurt seems to know that this is a venture not befitting his talents.

The menagerie of roles around them are momentarily diverting. Alex Cox is an academic who is rotting away and attempts to self lobotomise, and Dominique Pinon appears as a bus driver. Being a regular traveller on Oxford buses I can confirm that this is not as strange a choice as it may seem as the aesthetically challenged, morose nutcase he plays is clearly based on many a driver I know. Anna Massey plays senile with attitude and Julie Cox and Leonor Watling are the the honeys awaiting the amorous attentions of Frodo (I guess it his portable nature that attracts the women). The scene where Watling is introduced are truly dreadful as she and Baggins play squash as foreplay and he stares down her cleavage as evidence of his charm - although the physical impossibility for him of normal eye contact on level ground is a mitigating factor.

It all plays out as a mystery where the truth twists and turns and all of the above seem to be the culprit at one time or another. I'd be amazed if you work out the solution, which is the point of popular mysteries, but I'd be further amazed if you thought it was credible or elegantly revealed. The moments of humour are rather botched and even a supposedly funny sex scene is delivered badly, but the whole thing annoyed me as it's so damn inoffensive. Is this what the director has come to, jobbing for attention, delivering generic and TV grade material? An example of the crassness of this treatment is the musical introduction of Oxford university using madrigal music as if Robin Hood were about to don his tights in Ye Merrie Olde England.

One moment stands out when a sweeping fluid take introduces all the possible culprits and passes from character to character elegantly on its way to the opening murder. Unfortunately since none of these people have been introduced it serves no real purpose other than proving how talented the director can be in terms of the seamless edits and the dramatic flow. Placed later in the film or with more exposition before the first murder it would be genius, here though it stands out as the one moment of style that says this project was made for the cinema.

If you haven't got any episodes of Morse to watch then I suppose this might do, but de la Iglesia was once better than this and The Oxford Murders made me believe that that time is long gone. Ok, if you like this sort of thing or lust after shortarse sex machines.

The Disc

As you can see from the screenshots I include with this review, the look of this film is de-saturated, a little cold and autumnal. The progressive transfer used here is in the original aspect ratio and the underlying print is clearly strong with no obvious imperfections. However, the overall image is rather soft, lacking in detail and definition and there are compression artefacts to be seen. Contrast has to be very strong with such a dark looking film as this but too often I felt that more intense greys were lacking shade and becoming blacks. For such a new film, the video treatment just doesn't impress as you would hope.

Sound comes in fully loaded DTS and 5.1 options along with an optional stereo mix. I far preferred the DTS mix for its smoother reproduction but felt that surround options were not that necessary for a film lacking in action or atmospherics. The scene in the squash course of course employs the subwoofer but the scenes where the camera rounds the characters are not supported by similar motion in the sound mix. Basically the rear and sides have very occasional sound effects and the score played through them, whilst the center is used for the front on dialogue. Dialogue is always well mixed and clear so none of the maths and logic mumbo jumbo is lost, or any of the moments of Hurt in full oratory mode. The stereo mix is a fine option as well, and I am not really sure that surround mixes benefit this kind of movie greatly.

The extras include trailers for two other Contender releases, the far better [REC] and Kenny, a theatrical trailer and teaser for this film, and a half hour making of featurette. The latter extra is made up of location shooting of the director and the actors in a number of locales which are regularly interrupted by the main cast and director talking about the film. Frodo talks about the respect he feels for John Hurt, Hurt likes the little one's lowkey nature, and everyone describes a childish and brilliant director. It's the usual fluff to be honest with some interesting insights by Watling and Hurt's laidback charm shining through. Video quality is poorer with some combing caused by the interlaced presentation.


Hurt states that this type of film is done well if the audience thinks the eventual reveal is credible. On that basis the film fails, and as a supposedly offbeat film from a once challenging director it also is a disappointment.

5 out of 10
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out of 10

Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:36:54

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