If I were a famous Hollywood actor, I would try to avoid being typecast. Playing the same goofy, angry, funny or serious character over and over might grow tiresome (though a paycheck in the millions would go a long way toward helping me work through the boredom). So it's understandable to see an actor like Jim Carrey in a film quite unlike Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or Mask, vehicles in which he played his signature, rubber-faced, lovable fool. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was a breakout film for Carrey's more dramatic side, and the success of that movie guaranteed he'd be allowed to choose roles that stretch his acting chops, much like his role in The Number 23.
Walter Sparrow, a dog catcher, is obsessed with the book The Number 23, the writer of which is a man who calls himself Fingerling, a detective obsessed with the number 23. As Walter reads the book, his belief that the book is somehow about him grows, as does his own obsession with the number 23. The book comes to life on the screen as the viewer watches it unfold through Sparrow's eyes and amazing cinematography. The images are overly dark, overly bright, surrounded by blurred, softened edges and hard, crisp scenes. The sex scenes between Fingerling and Fabrizia (Virginia Madsen playing dual roles as Sparrow's wife Agatha and Fingerling's moll) are stormy, and it is Fingerling's obsession with Fabrizia and her obsession with danger that, at times, push the film violently along. Carrey as Fingerling is at times a bit forced, his voice almost a Bogart mimic, but the desire to see what happens next is never overshadowed by a little overacting. Through the darkening, prophetic scenes between Fingerling and Fabrizia, Sparrow's own torment unfolds into an M. Night Shymalan moment. Though the plot is a bit contrived, The Number 23 is suspenseful, at times scary, and the twist at the end suggests that if you look hard enough, you my just look right past the truth.