One of the things we love most about Elijah Wood is that after becoming a household name thanks to The Lord of the Rings movies, he pivoted to starring as quirky characters that inhabit even quirkier films. That is certainly the case with The Oxford Murders, a thriller that keeps you guessing from beginning to end. And now that you can stream this strange film on Hulu, it’s easier than ever to throw yourself into an ambitious movie that ensures audiences never know what to expect from one scene to another.
Elijah Wood is an ambitious student in The Oxford Murders, a thriller that’s about math…and murder.
Part of what makes this Elijah Wood thriller so unconventional is the source material that it adapts. The Oxford Murders is an adaptation of a novel by the same name that was penned by Guillermo Martínez, a writer who is also a trained mathematician. We mention his math background because it plays heavily into the plot and makes for a movie that is likely very different than any other thrillers you have previously watched.
Long before Elijah Wood was tapped to star in the film, Martínez earned a PhD in mathematical logic. After earning his degree, he completed a two-year post-doctoral appointment at Oxford at the Mathematical Institute. Between his highly specialized graduate degree and his experience of living and working at Oxford, the author had all the experience needed to craft a gripping novel that would later be adapted into an equally-gripping film.
The plot of the film begins in 1993, and Elijah Wood plays a young American student attending the University of Oxford who wants a character played by John Hurt (the other big name in the film) to serve as his thesis supervisor. They don’t exactly hit it off and are poised to part ways forever until it is revealed that the young student’s landlady has been murdered. After that, student and teacher must reluctantly team up to try to solve a series of murders that appear designed to humiliate the professor just as he has humiliated so many others in the past.
Elijah Wood starred in The Oxford Murders after director Alex de la Iglesia personally asked him, dropping Gael Garcia Bernal from the leading role in the process.
One of the reasons we like The Oxford Murders (aside from the fact we’d watch Elijah Wood in just about anything) is the fact that it incorporates so many mathematical and philosophical concepts and does what our old teachers always struggled to do: make them sound interesting. This is a film where things like Fermat’s Last Theorem, Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty, and Wittgenstein’s rule-following paradox all play a major role, and that’s just for starters. You’ll actually feel smarter for having watched this film, and that’s more than we can say for most of this summer’s recent box office bombs.
While it’s difficult to imagine The Oxford Murders starring pretty much anyone else, it’s worth noting that the big names in this film were not the first choices made by the production team. At one point, Elijah Wood’s role was going to be played by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, but director Álex de la Iglesia personally convinced the Lord of the Rings actor to star in the movie. John Hurt’s role was originally going to be played by Michael Caine, and while we love Caine, Hurt brings so much to this film that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in his place.
Unfortunately, having big names like Elijah Wood and John Hurt in The Oxford Murders wasn’t enough to win audiences over. The movie went on to earn $17,646,627 against a budget of $14.1 million, making it barely profitable. Factor in the cost of marketing, and this movie may very well have lost money.
The Oxford Murders isn’t a cult hit like some of Elijah Wood’s other independent films, but it’s a twisty ride and a very different type of thriller.
Sadly, critics didn’t know quite what to make of the film: on Rotten Tomatoes, The Oxford Murders has a 17 percent rating from critics. The critics generally praised the performances by Elijah Wood and John Hurt but were a bit puzzled by all the mystery elements in the movie. In our opinion, the movie was simply smarter than the room, and it’s no coincidence that it’s picking up new fans now that it’s on streaming.
Ultimately, The Oxford Murders is ambitious, smart, and even a tad messy in a way that keeps us glued to our screens. Elijah Wood is hypnotic in his performance, and not just because of his piercing eyes. And if you’re ready to see what he can do when he’s not tramping through Middle Earth along with Sean Astin, then you owe it to yourself to stream The Oxford Murders on Hulu today.