A broken record 

A review of Fracture (R)

click to enlarge Fracture mechanics go well with a nice Chianti and fava - beans.
  • Fracture mechanics go well with a nice Chianti and fava beans.

Fracture (R)

Carmike 10, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

Audiences expecting an airtight legal thriller from Gregory Hoblit's Fracture would be better served revisiting the director's big-screen debut, Primal Fear.

In his 1996 hit, Hoblit steered then-newcomer Edward Norton toward a surprise Oscar nomination. In Fracture, Hoblit finds himself working with a comparable young talent, recent Oscar-nominee Ryan Gosling.

But that's where the similarities between the two films start and end, because unfortunately, Fracture has little to offer in the way of thrills or suspense. In fact, if the film yields any surprise, it's the relative straightforwardness of the story and its lackluster payoffs. Although its commercials tout a taut psychological thriller, Fracture isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Gosling stars as Willy Beachum, a cocky, young Los Angeles prosecutor who, in the midst of transitioning to a comfy corporate gig as a defense attorney, gets sucked in by the one loose end he has yet to wrap up: an open-and-shut case that looks like an easy guilty verdict. Of course, things aren't always as they seem in movies like this, and, sure enough, the screenwriting team of Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers has a few tricks up its sleeves.

Whether or not you fall for them is another story.

The opening scene introduces us to fracture mechanics expert Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), who has a gift for identifying people's weaknesses. This "unique" ability doesn't seem to matter much to Crawford's beautiful, younger wife (Embeth Davidtz), though she's having a torrid affair with a hunky detective (Billy Burke). In a curious development, this same detective is later the only one allowed inside the Crawfords' home after Ted dials 911 and reports that he has shot his wife and is holding her now-comatose body hostage.

From the moment the cops slap the cuffs on him, Crawford prepares to play a parlor game of court theatrics, and just as Beachum is forced to do, the audience has no choice but to play along and suspend disbelief. Although there's never any doubt of Crawford's guilt, the burden of proof falls on the prosecution, and without the evidence necessary to convict the accused (the "murder" weapon is mysteriously missing), Beachum finds himself in a moral quandary. Will he break the law he is sworn to serve in order to send a guilty man to jail? Or will he risk losing both the old job he has turned his back on and his new job, where reputation and a whatever-it-takes attitude reign supreme?

Despite Hopkins and Gosling's engaging back-and-forth, the tired and formulaic screenplay ultimately fails their strong performances. Hopkins does yet another variation on his Hannibal Lecter shtick, spitting the script's best lines with venom.

But Gosling struggles to capitalize on his rightfully earned Oscar nom, helped in no way by a meaningless romance subplot. Though he seemingly comes to life in the courtroom scenes, reinvigorated by his verbal sparring with Hopkins, the court decision feels secondary to Beachum's ethical dilemma. So by the time Fracture has tried and tested your patience, the question isn't whether or not justice will be served, but whether or not you even care.

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