A film review by Craig J. Koban
2007, R, 113 mins.
Ted Crawford: Anthony Hopkins / Willy Beachum: Ryan Gosling / JoeLobruto: David Strathairn / Rob Nunally: Billy Burke / Nikki Gardner: Rosamund Pike / Jennifer Crawford: Embeth Davidtz
Directed by Gregory Hoblit / Written by Daniel Pyne, Glenn Gers, E. Max Frye and Tom Pabst.
Two of the many reasons that can be attributed to FRACTURE’s overall success are in its two main lead actors. First, we have Anthony Hopkins, a classically trained actor playing a role of a sophisticated, refined, and chillingly urbane psycho in ways only he can muster. Secondly, we have Ryan Gosling - whose talents lend more to method acting - who again reaffirms himself as one of the most commanding and disciplined young actors to emerge in the movies in the last decade. The two create a real absorbing level of tension and intrigue with their on-screen relationship, not to mention that they play effortlessly as intriguing foils to one another.
Perhaps the other key to the film’s worth is that – in essence – the screenplay is able to carve out these two personas as equally compelling and layered. That’s a tricky and difficult thing to do in a psychological thriller, and the understated genius of FRACTURE is that it presents to us a protagonist and antagonist that are likable and charismatic along with being emotionally flawed. At times, we simultaneously like and hate both the hero and the villain. As far as thrillers go, that's a rare commodity.
It’s also important to note that the film goes against the grain of many modern thrillers and court room procedurals in the sense that it allows the well written and performed characters and appealing and well laid out narrative take center stage. I’ve grown tired and bored with recent genre films that try to shock and tease with multiple twist endings, bizarre and outrageous story developments, and mindless action set pieces. FRACTURE is a real cinematic anomaly in the sense that it places paramount importance on a good, linear storytelling, a smart script laced with sly dialogue, and two main characters that are nuanced and multi-faceted. The film has gimmicky plot elements, to be sure, but it rises above clichés in its handling of the underlining material and with the strengths of Gosling and Hopkins.
The trailers for the film never really do it any justice. Watching them makes FRACTURE look like a dry and redundant SILENCE OF THE LAMBS watered down for mass consumption. We are shown glimpses of the icy and hypnotic gaze of Hopkins playing a deranged killer and Gosling playing the young, idealistic, and cocky man of the law that tries to crack through Hopkins' rugged and tough emotional exterior in an effort to break him down and beat him (sound familiar?). The previews made FRACTURE look painfully routine and shallow. Yet, the film kind of subtly defies expectations and creeps up on you slowly to the point where you get more deeply drawn into the proceedings.
All of the ads make the film look like a thriller, murder mystery, and a John Grisham courtroom drama. FRACTURE has all of those elements, but at its core is an enthralling chess game of wits between an intelligent and cunning older man and an equally intelligent and cunning younger man. Both know they are shrewd, resourceful, and prideful of their astuteness, and both use this against the other. The two men are guilty of one thing: they think they are smarter than the other – and this gives FRACTURE a sense of purpose and involvement. For the viewer, it’s easy to empathize and relate to both them.
Perhaps even more captivating is the fact that the guilt of the villain is never held in question throughout the film. Simply put - we know that he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, it’s the manner that the bad guy tries to deceive the hero to prove his innocence that's quite ingenious. Ted Crawford (played in a virtuoso performance by Hopkins) is just smart enough to pull that off. At the beginning of the film he has everything that life could offer him. He is the owner of a huge aeronautics company, is filthy rich, drives a super fast and sleek sports car, has a gigantic mansion, and is married to a gorgeous woman half is age (Embeth Davidtz), the kind of woman that any husband would be checking constantly to ensure that other men from around the room would not be trying to pick her up. Unfortunately, Crawford’s paranoia about his wife is well founded: she is actually having an affair with a man close to her age.
Interestingly, this is no secret to Crawford. One day he leaves work early so that he can spy on the two lovers at their hotel getaway. Crawford goes mad seeing his wife betray him so willingly, and he has already decided that this adulterous woman does not deserve to live with another man at her side. However, Crawford is not an impetuous and hasty killer; he is thoughtful, calculating, and absolutely meticulous in planning his crime. Perhaps his job in mathematics and engineering predicates his attention to every minute detail of plotting his ultimate revenge. This is crucial, because Crawford does not simply want to point a gun at his wife's head and pull the trigger. Rather, he waits for precisely the correct moment to catch her off guard to do the deed, not to mention the right time to set the rest of the film in motion during which he masterfully tries to prove his innocence.
Not surprisingly, Crawford shoots his wife in the face. What is surprising is the fact that – when the police come – he matter-of-factly pledges guilt to the crime. What’s even more interesting is the fact that Detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke) is the cop that Crawford admits this too. Turns out that it was Nunally himself that was actually sleeping with his wife, to ultimately complicate matters. When Nunally uncovers that it was his lover that was shot by Crawford, he attacks and proceeds to pound on him, which Crawford hoped would have happened. You see, what looks better in court, a confession to an anonymous cop, or a confession to a cop that was sleeping with the accused’s wife that was “beaten” out of him? Crawford has thought every detail through to mathematical precision.
Of course, it would seem that the case should easily be closed. Crawford did, indeed, shoot his wife and he did confess to it to the police. At least that’s what a young, cocky assistant DA named Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) thinks. Beachum is an attorney that rarely loses; he has a 97 per cent conviction rate. When he catches wind of the Crawford case, he thinks it’s an absolute win-win. After all, he sees evidence in the form of a smoking gun, not to mention Crawford’s admission of guilt. However, Beachum’s sin is ego and pride. He has let his own inflated sense of worth and power as a lawyer cloud his judgment: he thinks he will not loose the Crawford case, and Crawford himself senses this like a wild predator sniffing out vulnerable prey. At the arraignment he goes out of his way to defend himself without counsel and pleads for Beachum to prosecute.
Beachum, of course, thinks he can’t loose, but is seriously not altogether with it for the case. Firstly, he is distracted by the fact that it is his last week working for the taxpayers and for his boss, Joe Lobruto (David Straithairn, in a small, but memorably restrained performance), and that he is to start work shortly for one of the most notable law firms of Los Angeles. Not only that, but he begins a sorted fling with his new boss (played by the incredibly fetching former Bond girl, Rosamund Pike).
Things snowball really fast when Beachum and Crawford meet in court and – to the amazed Beachum – he totally owns him during the proceedings, despite his lack of judicial experience. Unfortunately, Crawford’s ace in the hole is the fact that (a) he has miraculously been able to hide the murder weapon from the law, thus helping to absolve his guilt, and (b) Beachum never finds out about the cop’s relationship to the victim until he’s on the stand during the trial. As a result, the once hot-shot attorney is reduced to mince meat in the courtroom. The mind games have now begun.
It is for those reasons why FRACTURE is more than just a run-of-the mill legal thriller. The film has a level of disciplined and systematic patience with showing Crawford’s master plan bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece, and clue-by-clue. Everything happens with an orderly cadence, and this only heightens the film’s momentum; just when you think you know Crawford’s plan, new tidbit emerges without you (or Beachum for that matter) guessing what they are. Again, the pleasure of watching FRACTURE is not in terms of discovering who is actually guilty of the crime. This is a not a who-dunnit: we know Crawford - within ten minutes of the film - is unequivocally guilty. FRACTURE is more of a how's-he-gonna-get-away-with-it and the more the film unfolds the more diabolical and masterful Crawford emerges as a criminal. The way he is able to effectively and lawfully prove his innocence in the courtroom is imaginative and deliciously inspired. This makes Crawford, in turn, even more sadistic and creepy and this furthermore makes us root for the hero to cage this criminal mastermind once and for all.
Beyond the film’s intuitive and quick-witted script, FRACTURE’S real assets are Hopkins and Gosling themselves. Weak actors would have sunk the characters into B-grade waters. Lesser talent would have made Crawford into a stereotypical, one note monster. In Hopkins’ hands he makes Crawford a figure of soft-spoken malevolence. This is not Hannibal-redux here. Crawford is less theatrical and more real in the sense that he is a jilted husband (rightfully so) that goes too far. We feel for him and understand his plight, even if we can’t support his motives. Hopkins plays the role with effortless charm and slimy bravado.
Gosling is equally compelling. His Beachum is like Crawford in the sense that we feel for his frustration in not cracking the case, but scorn him for his egotism and self-righteousness at times. Watching Gosling, hot off his Oscar nominated work in HALF NELSON, is a real sight to behold. Just look at the way he quietly commands the screen with the smallest hand gesture, glance, or turn of the eye. I have compared Gosling to a young Brando or De Niro in past reviews. It's not hard to see. Like those immortal actors, he conjures big emotions and payoffs with being low-key and under the radar. He never overplays; he quietly inhabits the moment. He makes other actors around him look better.
FRACTURE could have been yet another predictable and formulaic suspense, courtroom thriller, but it suspends itself highly above the norm with its intelligently crafted screenplay and its wonderfully textured performances by Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. The film is manipulative, but it is also assured and cagey in the way it shows two diametrically opposed men engage in an ultimate battle of wits and ego. FRACTURE works very effectively on us by allowing the smartness and ingenuity of its characters and the economically paced script grab a hold of us for its 113 minutes. The film is a pleasurable and entertaining surprise in the sense that it creates a real rooting interest in its story and characters, aspects that would often be overlooked in similar thrillers. FRACTURE is slick, well directed, impeccably acted, involving, and -most crucially - a lot of diabolical fun.