Director : Gregory Hoblit
Screenplay : Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers (story by Daniel Pyne)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Anthony Hopkins (Ted Crawford), Ryan Gosling (Willy Beachum), David Strathairn (Joe Lobruto), Rosamund Pike (Nikki Gardner), Embeth Davidtz (Jennifer Crawford), Billy Burke (Rob Nunally), Cliff Curtis (Detective Flores), Fiona Shaw (Judge Robinson), Bob Gunton (Judge Gardner), Josh Stamberg (Norman Foster)
In Fracture, there is no question about who did it--or, at least, it doesn’t seem that way. In fact, it appears that director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear) shows us right up front exactly what happens, why, and how. Wealthy and brilliant aeronautical engineer Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) spies on his adulterous wife (Embeth Davidtz) and her lover (Billy Burke) at a hotel, then goes home, waits for her, calmly confronts her about it, and then shoots her point-blank in the head. The police arrive, Ted is arrested, and he confesses to the murder. Case closed.
The seemingly open-and-shut nature of the case is the primary reason that Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Half-Nelson), a cocksure young attorney in the district attorney’s office who, as he puts it, doesn’t “like to lose,” takes it as his last case before gliding on his slick 97% conviction rate straight into a cushy corporate lawyer gig. He doesn’t really want the case, but he sees it as an easy last win, and Ted does everything but call him “chicken” to goad him into it. Why? Well, that’s part of the slippery nature of Fracture, a thriller that pretends to present you with everything while slowly revealing that it has shown you virtually nothing.
Willy’s case starts to come apart when the forensics team is unable to produce the murder weapon. They have a gun from Ted’s house (one of those cavernous, ultra-modern tombs that visually suggests inordinate wealth and soullessness), but tests reveal that it’s never even been fired. Willy is positive that the actual weapon is there because Ted never left the house between the time of the murder and the arrival of the police, but multiple searches fail to discover it. The whereabouts of the gun become the lynchpin of the case, which slyly illustrates how courtroom drama has virtually nothing to do with truth or fiction, but merely what someone can prove. Willy knows that Ted did it--he’s sure of it--but because he can’t prove it, it doesn’t matter. He is also not helped by the fact that the arresting officer was Ted’s wife lover, who conveniently hides his less-savory involvement in the case from Willy until it comes up on the stand.
As a twisty-turny thriller, Fracture has its moments. Like the structures Ted builds for his own amusement, Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers’s screenplay is an elaborate contraption of misdirection, although it works primarily if you don’t figure out the truth about the murder weapon. However, even if you get that one figured out before the big revelation (which comes, in standard movie fashion, from the villain himself), Fracture still holds quite a few surprises and takes some unexpected paths, especially the one that finds Willy, our supposed hero, not only defeated, but truly failed. Fracture is a brave thriller in its willingness to take the components of a well-worn genre and use them to explore the fragile nature of movie heroes--how all that cocky self-assuredness that defines so many Hollywood icons can be used to mask the deepest of flaws. In any other movie, Gosling’s swagger and ambition would be celebrated, but here it literally costs someone a life.
The real pleasure in Fracture, though, is watching Hopkins and Gosling, the elder statesman and brash young firebrand of the current cinema’s greatest actors, go at it. There are obvious echoes of The Silence of the Lambs (1991), with Hopkins once again playing a brilliant sociopath while Gosling’s upstart, ladder-climbing lawyer steps in for Jodie Foster’s upstart, ladder-climbing FBI agent (both use of whom use barely masked Southern accents to mark their ascent out of the lower classes through professional success). Yet, the two actors are so fierce in their convictions and so thoroughly calculated in their ambitions that they transcend the film’s moments of courtroom cliché and make them hum with a high-wire tension.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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All images copyright ©2007 New Line Cinema