Fracture (United States, 2007)
Fracture is refreshingly different from the average mystery thriller in that it does not bombard the audience with "shocking" twists and "surprise" turns. This is a good thing, since those kinds of gimmicky plot elements more often than not derail movies. Although Fracture is set up as a crime movie/courtroom drama, it's actually a contest of wills between two characters who share a primary trait: one of Shakespeare's favorite tragic flaws - hubris. The movie can be seen as a high stakes chess match, with each of the main characters trying to outmaneuver the other. The ending is weak, and requires the employment of the most overused device in the genre, but the movie as a whole survives this.
Millionaire Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) loves his wife, Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz), but he cannot condone her sleeping with another man. So, moments after affirming his affection for her, he shoots her in the face. Then he calmly puts into action a convoluted plot that will allow him to walk away from trial a free man while tormenting his comatose wife's lover, police officer Rob Nunally (Billy Burke). In order to secure his victory, he must face-off against hot shot assistant D.A. Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), who has a 97% conviction rate. But Willy's head isn't in the game. He thinks this is a slam-dunk. After all, there's a confession and a weapon. He's on his way to a lucrative job in the commercial sector and doesn't heed the warning of his boss, Joe Lobuto (David Strathairn), not to take the case lightly. When Ted springs his trap, Willy is unprepared and the case ends up in shambles.
The way in which Crawford's plan is revealed - bit by bit, clue by clue - keeps the audience guessing even before Willy realizes something is wrong. From the beginning, we are aware of Crawford's intelligence and malevolence and that's what keeps us interested. There aren't any big twists but it's rewarding to puzzle out the character's scheme before it is explicitly revealed. There's also room to admire Crawford, if not sympathize with him. He has, after all, been betrayed by his wife. His method of revenge is extreme but effective. And, at least to start with, there's not much to appreciate about the cocky Willy, who's so sure of himself that the consideration Crawford may be playing him never enters his thoughts until the conclusion is inescapable.
Anthony Hopkins has played Hannibal Lecter to perfection and Crawford isn't in the Cannibal's league. Nevertheless, the actor pulls a little of that psychotic genius out of his bags of tricks and makes this character a formidable presence. There's no doubt that Hopkins is one of the main reasons the film works. With a lesser performer, Fracture might be wallowing in B-movie territory. Ryan Gosling, fresh off limitless praise for Half Nelson, does an effective job delineating Willy's character arc, but he doesn't fare well in the one-on-one face-offs against Hopkins. Hopkins arrests the camera's attention in a way Gosling doesn't. Embeth Davidtz plays most of her scenes unconscious in a hospital bed. Former Bond girl Rosamund Pike is the temptress luring Willy to the dark side, while David Strathairn tries to keep him where he's "meant to be."
Director Gregory Hoblit is probably best known for directing Primal Fear, as overwrought a crime drama as you're likely to find. This time, Hoblit goes for something cold and sinister rather than half-baked and melodramatic. The ending is imperfect and anti-climactic, but considering how well most of the story unfolds, perhaps it's better than attempting the sensationalistic approach of the nonsensical. We see that too often and unless it's brilliantly integrated into the fabric of the story, it can destroy the project. By not choosing to go in that direction, Fracture at least keeps its integrity intact.
There are echoes of classic themes in Fracture: ego, pride, arrogance, and redemption. At one point, a character faces a moral dilemma of significant proportions, and the film does not shy from depicting the consequences of the road taken. At first glance, Fracture appears to be a run-of-the-mill thriller but, sitting through it, the viewer will become aware that it's doing some interesting things. With Anthony Hopkins in the lead and a screenplay that was composed by writers not merely interested in fitting together a jigsaw puzzle of clichés, this movie is gruesomely engaging.
Fracture (United States, 2007)
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Billy Burke
Screenplay: Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers
Cinematography: Kramer Morgenthau
Music: Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema