October 2023

Fracture (2007)

DIRECTOR: Gregory Hoblit

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


Fracture is not a great thriller, and ultimately somewhat fizzles with an anti-climactic conclusion, but it’s a slick entry that serves up enough juicy twists and turns to draw us in.  Plus a movie that features the entertainment value of Anthony Hopkins in Hannibal Lecter mode (though here Hopkins restricts himself to chewing the scenery, not any cast members) has at least a few scenes worth watching on that score alone.

Brilliant aeronautics engineer Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) loves his younger wife Emily (Embeth Davidtz), but her affair with police officer Detective Nunnally (Billy Burke) is not to be tolerated.  So, one night, Crawford shoots his wife in the head, then calmly sets in motion a convoluted plan that will enable him to walk free, with the added bonus of getting to have a little fun tormenting her lover in the process.  At first glance, the case seems open and shut and guaranteed to be quickly over (there’s a signed confession and a murder weapon), which makes it appealing to hotshot Assistant DA Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), who’s halfway out the door of his law firm for a high-powered private sector job and only paying half-attention.  But Crawford has something—or a few things—up his sleeve, and by the time Willy realizes the mess he’s stumbled into, it might be too late to prevent a man from getting away with murder.

When it centers on Crawford’s convoluted machinations, Fracture is engaging.  The way in which Crawford’s plan is revealed one piece at a time keeps us wondering how he intends to get away with this, and when it’s revealed, it’s credible enough.  There aren’t any huge shocks, but there aren’t any glaringly obvious plot holes either.  There’s some twists and turns, and a few witty one-liners; Hopkins unsurprisingly gets the majority of them, but someone else occasionally gets one in (when a deflated Willy vows to find more evidence after a courtroom fiasco, David Strathairn acerbically quips “from where, The Evidence Store?”).  Alas, the movie also spends a lot of screentime on things like Willy trying to break into the private sector and flirting with his new boss (Rosamund Pike), which is less than riveting.  While Willy is the lead, Crawford is by far the most interesting character.  The movie gets bogged down in Willy-related office politics and Rosamund Pike’s superfluous character, and we get restless waiting to get back to Crawford’s scheming.  The movie also wraps itself up in ho-hum and anti-climactic fashion that avoids anything as over-the-top as some kind of half-expected final fight to the death between Willy and Crawford, but goes to the opposite extreme of being a little too low-key and not as satisfying as it could have been.  But if the end generates something of a shrug, the way there is at least a twisty enough ride to be fitfully engrossing.

While Ryan Gosling is the real lead (Hopkins is first-billed but Gosling has substantially more screentime), Anthony Hopkins easily steals the show and commands the screen whenever he appears.  Crawford has Hopkins venturing back into familiar territory—he’s a Hannibal Lecter variation with an unfaithful wife—but Hopkins dips back into his Lecter-esque bag of tricks to make Crawford a formidable presence.  When he puts his mind to it, few actors can ooze calm, cool, menacing intelligence like Hopkins can, and he chews scenery with lip-smacking satisfaction.  Ryan Gosling does an adequate job with Willy’s generic character arc of the hotshot lawyer who learns a lesson, but the shallowly slick Willy, at least at first, is too smug and cocky to be all that appealing of a protagonist, leaving us almost rooting for Crawford, who at least has the virtue of being interesting.  Incidentally, both leads have issues with accents, with Gosling’s Southern twang sounding a little forced and Hopkins not seeming able to make up his mind whether or not he’s going for an Irish accent (it has a habit of suddenly bursting forth at sporadic intervals).  No one else gets much to do; Rosamund Pike is Willy’s seductress new boss, whose subplot feels rather superfluous, while David Strathairn is the more “salt of the earth” type head honcho at his old law firm (the devil and angel on his shoulders?).  Embeth Davidtz has the thankless role of Crawford’s wife, which she spends most of laying comatose in a hospital bed, Billy Burke is her tortured lover, Cliff Curtis is his colleague, Fiona Shaw (Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia) is the judge, and there’s bit parts for familiar character actors Bob Gunton (for once playing an authority figure who’s not corrupt) and Xander Berkeley.

In a sense, Fracture almost feels like two movies sandwiched together, a deliciously devious little thriller about a diabolical man getting away with murder despite his seemingly obvious guilt, and a much blander and less interesting office politics drama about a cocky lawyer getting dealt a blow to his ego that makes him reassess his priorities.  The first serves up enough engaging material to be a watchable and sporadically engrossing thriller, but the second bogs it down in too much excess fat to let it be a great one.

* * 1/2