Mark Reviews Movies

FRACTURE

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Gregory Hoblit

Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Billy Burke, Embeth Davidtz, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw

MPAA Rating: R  (for language and some violent content)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 4/20/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Fracture is not nearly as smart as it thinks it is. That's all right, though; it does a fairly decent job pretending. The film is a legal thriller that has all the elements: missing evidence, unreliable witnesses, a drawn out investigation, and courtroom scenes that should have those in the legal profession laughing themselves silly at their inaccuracies. That the film focuses entirely on those elements to garner thrills is a strength, though, and it never resorts to cheap chases, a shadowy witness who uncovers all, or, basically, any kind of shoddy copouts. No, for all its police procedures and trial scenes, Fracture is really a battle of wills between two arrogant rivals, and most of the pleasure of the film comes from watching Anthony Hopkins playing elaborate mind games and seeing Ryan Gosling unload all kinds of nervous tics as his character comes close to bowing to the pressure. They're solid characters these actors play, with Hopkins emitting devious, sardonic contempt as only he can and Gosling making his character's discovery of a soul believable. The conflict between characters with similar temperaments but contradictory goals is simple, but here, it is involving nonetheless.

Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, a well-to-do engineer at an aeronautical firm, who follows his wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) and her lover Rob Nunally (Billy Burke) to their hotel. Upon his early arrival home, he reveals his knowledge of his wife's affair and shoots her in the face (there's a creepy image of his reflection in her blood). He cleans up the scene of the crime, and soon Nunally, a negotiator, is at the scene. When he discovers that it was his lover who was shot (they did not use their real names) and after some provoking by Crawford, Nunally manages to subdue Crawford and arrest him. Meanwhile, Willy Beachum (Gosling), a prosecutor with the district attorney's office, is on his way to a new job with a prestigious private firm. His boss (David Strathairn) hates to see him go, and tells us of Beachum's 97 percent conviction rate in the process. Before going to a party for his new firm, Beachum heads to court to represent the state in Crawford's arraignment. Crawford has confessed to the attempted murder of his wife but pleads not guilty, asks for an immediate trial, wants to represent himself, and requests that Beachum prosecute. Seeing another easy win, Beachum agrees.

There's a big problem, though. It turns out Crawford's gun was never fired, and that means the non-smoking gun is no longer admissible as evidence. Then there's the fact that Beachum's new boss Nikki (Rosamund Pike) wants him to catch up on his first big case for the firm in two weeks, and he starts a pre-interoffice romantic entanglement with her. There's a lot on Beachum's plate, but he's too proud to think any different. The same goes for Crawford, whose seeming indifference to the trial has some more complicated reasoning. Crawford sits there in court, sketching in his legal pad, as damning testimony is presented, not even taking advantage when the judge recommends he object to one of Beachum's leading questions. There's a plan here, and Beachum's equally arrogant presumption that the case will end in his favor is a major component. They meet in jail to discuss the case, but more mind games ensue, as Crawford tells Beachum what he's learned about his opponent from a private investigator and tells him about flaws in eggs and people (Crawford later sends Beachum a broken egg to—get it—egg him on).

There's much going on, and it's actually a bit too much. The entire romantic subplot with Nikki and the ticking clock device of Beachum's new job are filler material that only adds to Beachum's pride and lack of attention, traits that are clear even without these subplots. More interesting is how Beachum is humbled by Crawford's game to the point that visits to Mrs. Crawford's bedside turn from hoping to get testimony if she were to awaken from her coma to caring for what will become of her (his reading of Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" is strangely effective—somewhat haunting and oddly appropriate). A moral dilemma arises when Nunally tells Beachum he "knows a guy" who could give the case the evidence it needs to convict Crawford, and while Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers' screenplay doesn't play that predicament to its fullest, Gosling's transition from scummy to tender works nonetheless. Director Gregory Hoblit and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau give the film a noir look, using lights and shadows to great affect in the color palette. Hopkins has devilish fun in a performance of unnerving stillness that underscores his character's diabolical humor.

The key twist—whose revelation is saved until the last minute and discovery by the characters is only by forced happenstance—is obvious about halfway through, and those new job/romance subplots are unnecessary reiteration. Still, Fracture succeeds in its semi-smart plot, dialogue-driven thrills, and striking visual execution.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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