FRACTURE (Gregory Hoblit, 2007)
After two hours of evidence collection, the courtroom thriller FRACTURE is resolved via a legal loophole. That's as satisfying as a weeks-long case being dismissed on a technicality. It makes all that time feel like a monumental waste.
There's no mistaking the basic facts of the case. Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shoots his adulterous wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) in the head and then calmly goes about finetuning the crime scene's appearance to his advantage. The police arrive, confiscate his weapon, and obtain a signed confession. For prosecutor Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), it's just what he needs to close out his service in the district attorney's office before moving on to a lucrative job with a private firm. If ever there was an open and shut case, this is it.
Except it isn't. Arresting officer Rob Nunally (Billy Burke) was having an affair with Ted's wife. His involvement in the matter and presence at the interrogation nullifies the confession. There's also the pesky issue of the attempted murder weapon. The gun in evidence shows no sign of ever being fired. Ted, who has chosen to represent himself, is proving to be a wilier adversary than Willy expected. His setbacks in court are beginning to put his corporate job in jeopardy.
In FRACTURE Hopkins again gets to play the evil genius toying with his young counterpart; however, this refined criminal mastermind isn't even a shadow of Hannibal Lecter, arguably the actor's defining role. He winks his way through the film, literally and metaphorically, and adopts a Scottish brogue that comes and go. (Gosling's southern accent wanes too.) Ted is an aeronautics whiz with an uncanny ability to spot structural and personal weaknesses. It would stand to reason that his battle of wits with Willy would push the action, but their jousting is of the indirect variety.
Gosling's subdued vibe fits with the emotionless nature of the film and the law. Although Willy begins to connect with the comatose Jennifer, his prosecutorial passion derives from his desire to win every time. Not getting personally invested may be an ideal tactic for lawyers, but it doesn't help a film in need of energy. Gosling's assured performance will sustain his status as a critical favorite, but adding minor affectations isn't enough to improve a character as thinly written as Willy.
The same goes for FRACTURE'S other main players. Ted is the prototypical villain begging for a cat-and-mouse duel. As he counts on pride undoing Willy, so will his own hubris sabotage his carefully plotted plan. Maybe this would be richer if Ted were flesh and blood instead of a mechanical antagonist. Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), Willy's new boss, is shoehorned into the film presumably because every movie needs an ostensible love interest for the hero. Nikki appears intermittently to remind Willy that he's endangering his status as a new hire. She's a perfunctory character driving a superfluous subplot.
Part of the fun of a movie like FRACTURE is trying to crack the mystery before the characters do. The case isn't complex enough to hold interest as the film dutifully plods through the procedural elements. There seems to be no question that Ted is guilty despite what the ballistics report concludes about the gun recovered from the scene. With no tools for solving the crime, the audience must wait patiently for a crackerjack ending that the film can't produce.
FRACTURE has the opposite problem of PERFECT STRANGER. It wraps with the faint pop of a paper bag rather than end with a bombshell's loud bang. It's a shoulder-shrugging conclusion instead of headshaking foolishness. Whatever.