“Fracture”, the new film from director Gregory Hoblit (“Primal Fear”, TV’s “L.A. Law”, “NYPD Blue”), is a pretty routine legal thriller with four attributes that help it stand out from the rest of the pack.
Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), an aerospace tycoon, sits at his desk working on a new Rube Goldberg contraption when he suddenly realizes he should leave the office. He shows up at a local hotel and finds his wife, Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) having an affair with Rob (Billy Burke, “Ladder 49”, TV’s “24”), a detective with the Los Angeles police force. When Jennifer returns home, Ted confronts her and shoots her. Later, Rob is the detective called to the scene. When he realizes his girlfriend has been killed, he attacks Ted. At trial, Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson), a deputy DA with one foot out the door for a private practice job, is reluctant to take the case until he learns there is a signed confession. He convinces the district attorney (David Strathairn) that he can close the case in the two weeks he has left, keeping his conviction rate and new job intact. Willie, a man with a lot of debt, anxious to get going on his new high salary position, takes the case and soon meets his new boss, Nikki Gardner (Rosamunde Pike, “Pride and Prejudice”, “Die Another Day”), who seems to be attracted to her new Junior Associate. But Willie is cocky and assumes this is a slam-dunk until he starts to learn Ted’s strategies to win the trial.
“Fracture” is a pretty routine legal thriller centered on a ‘brilliant mind’ who will manipulate everyone around him in an effort to go free. The one person standing in his way? A younger ‘brilliant mind’.
There are four factors that set “Fracture” apart from the rest of the pack. The first, and least significant of the four, are Hoblit’s efforts to shoot this film in a very lush style, making it an almost beautiful film to watch. Hoblit worked on many of Steven Bocho’s television series and the style is similar to “L.A. Law” or “Murder One”. All of the surfaces gleam with polish, shadows are heavy and dark, and figures are frequently seen from behind screens or in shadow. Sunlight also seems to play a major influence on all of the cinematography. Often, characters are walking through hallways and we see the glow of early afternoon light trying to break through the dusty passageways or reflecting off marble surfaces. This technique helps to give the film a rich look, even beyond the general lifestyle of Hopkin’s character, who is rich and lives in a nice, modern house. This technique helps to give Gosling’s office at the District Attorney’s office a rich look, even though the office is cramped, unglamorous and very different from Ted’s lifestyle.
The other three factors are the talent of three actors involved in the film. First and foremost is Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins has played this type of role before, the brilliant mastermind, but he does it so well. There are and will be inevitable comparisons between this role and Hannibal Lecter (both are brilliant, both are deadly, both play mind games with a young ‘protégé’) and Ted Crawford is Hannibal – light. But it is always interesting to watch a master like Hopkins, even when he is lobbed a softball like this role. Crawford, an aeronautical engineer, likes to create elaborate rube Goldberg contraptions, with long metal chutes, allowing Crawford to place a metal ball at the top and watch it move through a series of passages, all connected, much like a large version of the game “Mousetrap”. When he realizes his wife is cheating on him, he decides to shoot her and comes up with a way to get through all of the legal challenges and hurdles. Presumably, studying these contraptions helps him work through all of the possible variations.
As the story progresses, Hopkins manages to add some nice touches to the role, making him seem even more devious and menacing. During a character’s testimony, Crawford, who has chosen to represent himself, doodles on a yellow legal pad, periodically ripping the pages from the pad. Each time he tears off a sheet, the sound reverberates through the quiet courtroom, causing Beachum to turn his attention to the defendant.
Ryan Gosling does a great job as Willie Beachum, the Assistant District Attorney who gladly accepts a high paying job at one of the most respected law firms in Los Angeles. Beachum is cocky and trying to move beyond his roots; he grew up poor in Oklahoma and now has a load of debt from law school. He clearly always saw the District Attorney’s office as a stepping-stone and is now glad to be leaving it. When he meets with his boss (played by David Strathairn), a comment is made about Willie’s high conviction rate and the lengths he would go to get it. Willie is a complicated guy and not beyond inflating the truth or maneuvering things to benefit his goals.
When he meets his new boss, Nikki Gardner (Rosamunde Pike), he is instantly attracted to her and they flirt. This is yet another example of his cockiness, because he knows he is good looking and doesn’t care if he flirts with his new boss. The fact that this leads to the film’s biggest plot hole is beyond the point. because he is so brazen about it, this adds significantly to his character.
He strides into the courtroom and decides to prosecute Ted’s case, despite his impending new job, because he considers it a slam-dunk. Ted signed a confession, there was no one else in the house, and how could he lose? Then, Ted begins to pull the strings and manipulate everything and everyone.
To a lesser extent, David Strathairn adds significance as District Attorney Lobruto, Willie’s boss. From the moment Lobruto walks into Beachum’s office to confront him, we see that Lobruto has world-weariness to him. As an elected public official, he is aware of what little he can accomplish and accepts everything else with ease. He has been beaten down by the system and takes his young Assistant DA’s defection with the slightest disgruntlement. But he understands. If he had the same chance, he would probably take it.
Embeth Davidtz, Rosamunde Pike, Billy Burke, Bob Gunton and Fiona Shaw all play supporting characters, some with greater success and greater impact, but they all add to the texture of the story, making it interesting to watch.
“Fracture” is not a great film, but it is fun to watch all of the twists and turns, the machinations Hopkins’ character puts everyone through. For it to be a great film, Hopkins would have to add something different to his character. Is it just me or does it seem odd that Crawford is playing mind games with a poor guy from the South, who came from a questionable background? Does Beachum’s background sound familiar to anyone else? Did they ask Jodie Foster to take the role before she refused it because it was too similar to Clarice Starling? Gosling does a good job with the role, but Hopkins is such a great actor and this role is not a stretch that it seems like a disappointment.