The newly released Fracture, directed by Gregory Hoblit, is not the first movie to thrive on a contest, whether of wills, fighting prowess or wits, between two main characters. Nor is it the first movie to place Anthony Hopkins in such a situation. Many readers will think immediately of Silence of the Lambs, in which Mr. Hopkins and Jodie Foster thrilled audiences with their scintillating exchanges. But while Fracture is successful when Ryan Gosling’s Willy Beachum and Hopkins’ Ted Crawford are in the same room, the movie does not have the other strong elements that Lambs did and too often sputters when Hopkins is not around.

Ted Crawford is a rich and successful designer of airplanes whose wife, played by Embeth Davidtz, is having an affair with Detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke). Crawford kills his wife and prosecutor Willy Beachum, about to make a move to a successful private firm and thinking that with a signed confession and the murder weapon the case will be open and shut in short order, agrees to take the case as his last for the city. But of course things cannot be so simple, for it turns out that Crawford has cunningly planned far in advance. He manipulates the system and the people in it until Beachum is left with a case lacking admissible evidence. With his career inexplicably hanging in the balance of one single case, Beachum must try to outwit the alleged murderer and secure a conviction.

As mentioned above, when Fracture works it is because of the interaction between Hopkins, who plays a deliciously devious and taunting criminal, and Gosling, who does acceptably well as a cocky lawyer with a mild southern drawl. That alone is enough to make the movie entertaining, which is fortunate because that along with some thoughtful cinematography is about all the movie has to offer. Other elements which should support and flesh out the project are disappointingly weak or absent.

For instance, the script never takes the time to explore the characters. Crawford is an extraordinarily cold and cunning criminal, but we never get to know much about him. The investigation could have spent many fruitful scenes delving into his past, a past which should have had important repercussions for the present, but no step in this direction is ever taken.

The details of the crime itself are too simplistic to carry us through a satisfying beginning, middle and end. The two pieces of evidence on which Beachum plans to rest his case unravel far too quickly. Instead of a captivating game of cat and mouse which evolves with unexpected twists and turns, we get a very sudden turn when the evidence proves faulty and we go no further down that avenue. To be sure, Beachum does try to make the failed evidence work, but this itself is a story which should have its own arc with a beginning, middle and end, but it does little other than fiddle around and waste time.  All this would be fine if the movie were really about something else, but it most definitely is not. Crawford’s manipulation of the system and Beachum’s frantic attempt to thwart him are the central pillars of the story, and when all that these have to offer is so quickly expended we are left with unimportant filler scenes, many of them having to do with an unconvincing romance between Beachum and his soon-to-be boss at the private firm.

The only times these filler scenes are not unremarkably routine is when the characters’ actions and motivations strain credulity. The romance between Rosamund Pike’s Nikki Gardner and Willy Beachum is, in very typical fashion, not believable. It’s not just the lack of chemistry on screen: it is also the way they swiftly move from exchanging glances to exchanging fluids and then to arguing like a dysfunctional couple with a long history. Also mystifying is Beachum’s behavior towards the victim. The details might reveal too much of the story, but suffice it to say that he becomes too attached too easily and for no apparent reason. When Crawford brings this side story to a climax late in the movie, Beachum’s response is almost comical in its silliness, the slow motion cinematography and score’s insistence in its gripping drama notwithstanding.

As a last complaint, I was disturbed by some insinuations in the movie. On more than one occasion, private defense law was painted as a corrupt endeavor while prosecution (lower paid prosecution of course!), was noble and the place for people with integrity. I find this objectionable in a host of different ways, and anyone who has bothered to follow the Duke Lacrosse Rape (sic) Case and the unpardonable actions of state prosecutor Michael Nifong (to cite just one example of prosecutorial misconduct) must surely be laughing at this idea. For every Johnny Cochrane there is at least one Rudy Giuliani.

Stepping back and looking at the project as a whole, I have to say it wasn’t bad, with the first half being significantly stronger than the second. It is a meager script, but the filming was done well, despite the occasional odd angle shot which seemed to serve little purpose and did not fit well with the rest of the cinematography. Also good were some of the performances, and worth highlighting despite the paltry screen time he gets is head prosecutor Joe Lobruto, played with confidence and gravitas by David Straithairn. Along with some very nice scenes between Gosling and Hopkins, these aspects of the film are strong enough to carry it along and make it worth a viewing. It won’t be going into my DVD collection, but I don’t feel like I want those two hours of my life back either.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Matthew is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. An occasionally truant student, he majored in Spanish when he finally got around to it. His interests, apart from movies, range from heavy metal and classical music to football, soccer, hockey, history, economics and obviously sex, a subject in which, like the Vicomte Sabastien de Valmont said of Madame de Volanges in Dangerous Liaisons, he is more noted for his enthusiasm than his ability. So be it. His DVD collection is growing to an acceptable size, and along the way he has noted that decades which begin with an odd number the 1950s, the 1970s and the 1990s are cinematically stronger than decades which begin with an even number. Therefore, he is anxiously awaiting 2010 and hopes still to be a Reject at that date.

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