In the generically titled Fracture, Anthony Hopkins again confuses villainy for vaudeville so broad that he might as well have a capuchin monkey sitting on his shoulder, grinding an organ.
Murderous Ted Crawford basically is Hannibal Lecter with grayer hair, a sports car, a 401(k) and an annoying tendency toward verbal irony (e.g. calling younger folks “old sport”). Don’t forget Ted’s cheeky puns like “My dick has evidence,” a head-turning reference to his private investigator.
This isn’t what’s meant by enjoyable trash. It’s just the rare moment when something other than boredom feels gratuitous in an unusually stiff thriller from director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear).
Don’t be thematically fooled by seeing marbles roll through aeronautical engineer Ted’s loop-de-loop contraptions. Simple legalese makes My Cousin Vinny look like a masterpiece of courtroom intrigue, and if Fracture’s focus is meant to be on grandstanding players, it’s only a half success.
Focused, assured work from Oscar nominee Ryan Gosling (The Notebook), as a lawyer who equally values cutthroat cunning and hard work, is the best thing about Fracture. Still, it’s not worth riding along in the rumble seat for this teeth-rattling pothole on Gosling’s road to stardom.
His Willy Beachum is a shrewd youngster already with one foot out the door of his deputy district attorney job. A 97-percent conviction rate has earned Willy a chance for easy living in private practice, and he gets his caffeine from cockiness. It’s a crucial character flaw that’s about to be exploited in a courtroom by Ted, who opts to defend himself on a charge of attempted murder.
Ted’s idea of tarnishing his cheating trophy wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) was coolly shooting her into a coma before cleaning the scene (and himself, in a scene that screams stunt gut).
Willy’s last public-prosecution case seems a piece of cake, iced with Ted’s signed confession and a murder weapon. Then comes a ballistics report that Ted’s gun never fired, and the cop (Billy Burke, a horrid Harry Hamlin clone) who solicited Ted’s confession was sleeping with Jennifer.
If Willy can’t somehow put Ted away, he’ll be a face-saving sacrifice from public office and get canned from the job awaiting him (where he’s already found Rosamund Pike’s blonde to bed). And, of course, Willy will weigh lawyerly merits of putting bad guys away over the corporate fast lane, which seems to culminate in a contemplative reading of Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
At least readers get what they are promised from Dr. Seuss. Fracture denies expected pleasures of seeing intense actors in a strong toe-to-toe smackdown. The little screen time Hopkins and Gosling share is wasted on a story outdone by the dust-jacket descriptions on potboiler paperbacks.
Where those tales tend to have juicy psychological hooks, any arrogance Ted and Willy might need from the other to thrive and survive loses out to a lighting supervisor’s wet dream. Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau takes pains to show every sweater fiber and dust particle. Then again, it’s not as if Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers’ script even spins a web in which to get stuck.
As bad as Fracture’s script is, the filmed version wouldn’t exist without Hopkins’ check-cashing interest. Outside his comfort zone of period pieces or psychological thrillers, Hopkins can be surprising and compelling (The World’s Fastest Indian, Meet Joe Black). Hearing Ted deconstruct Willy’s Okie childhood (just like Lecter for Clarice Starling) is a depressing shame.
Double jeopardy might protect someone from being tried twice for the same crime. It’s time for the court of public opinion to deny Hopkins that privilege and throw the book at him for Fracture.