Fragments is another in a long line of ensemble dramas born out of the Oscar-winning success of Paul Haggis's Crash. Several strangers, unrelated at the beginning, are brought together (in this case by a single event), and the rest of the film is about dealing with the event or the connections made. Most of these movies have been treacly and overbearing, but this time I got to wondering what the purpose of making a film like this really is. Maybe the screenwriter (Roy Freirich) wanted lots of options to explore, but instead of giving the audience several interesting, fleshed-out people to choose from, we get several slightly nuanced characters that may have added up to a couple of truly layered people. Beyond that, I'm not sure how the event really motivates most of these charaters to act the way they do; it's like Freirich had a desk drawer full of unfinished short subjects and he just hastily lumped them all into a single screenplay.
In this case, the event is an essentially unprovoked shootout in a diner. Dr. Bruce Laraby (Guy Pearce) just happens to be leaving, and even holds the door open for the gunman. Carla Davenport (Kate Beckinsale) is a waitress thinking more about her infant son than the customer in front of her. Charlie Archenault (Forest Whitaker) is the customer, somberly contemplating what to do with his life having just been diagnosed with cancer. Lastly, Anne Hagen (Dakota Fanning) is out with her father, Aaron (Tim Guinee) and her friend Jimmy Jaspersen (Josh Hutcherson). The gunman shoots several random people in the diner, inclduing Charlie, who survives, and Aaron, who does not, before turning the gun on himself.
First, the good. Charlie's story is interesting, if not exactly a creative revolution. Stunned by his miraculous brush with death despite his diagnosis, Charlie walks out of the hospital unannounced and goes to Las Vegas, feeling uniquely lucky. Whitaker's performance is strange, and I almost wondered if Charlie was handicapped. It's not a bad thing; it gives the character a strange, unique cadence. Most of Charlie's screen time is spent silent, adding to the mystery of who Charlie is. While he is in Las Vegas, a private investigator questions Charlie's daughter (Jennifer Hudson) as to Charlie's whereabouts, and why some of Charlie's blood was found on the gun. Hudson doesn't have much a role, and her work is quiet, but she's good, I suppose, with what she's given.
Next, the flawed. Dr. Laraby is shaken when he sees the same people from the diner he was just at roll into his hospital only twenty minutes later, some of whom are dead. He returns home to his wife (Embeth Davidtz) and tries to regain his footing, but he finds it hard, neglecting Carla's visits with her baby, which has become fussy and upset. Carla is infatuated with Dr. Laraby, but Dr. Laraby's mind is elsewhere. For unexplained reasons (trauma? an obsessive need to feel helpful?), Dr. Laraby starts adding a "bi-polar" drug to his wife's food: a drop of one drug causes headaches, and a pill of another relieves them while creating symptoms which can be treated by the first drug, meaning Bruce always has the solution to his wife's condition. Pearce is pretty good, as usual, but I'm not sure what to make of the drug plotline. It's hard to make a logical connection between his desire to be his wife's magic cure and his stress at his knowledge that he either almost got killed or even played a small, circumstantial part in people's deaths, or was simply not present and unable to save them. Beckinsale's Carla is the same scenario. It seems somewhat clear, but not clear enough whether or not Carla is actually neglecting her child, preventing the audience from really making up their minds about her.
Lastly, we have the bad, or at least deeply problematic. After the death of her father, Anne recesses into a strange religious fervor, showing no emotion over the events, much to the distress of her mother Doris (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Her friend Jimmy is the opposite, remaining completely silent for weeks on end, much to the frustration of his father Bob (Jackie Earle Haley) and his mother Lydia (Robin Weigert). A hospital-employed trauma psychologist (Troy Garity) tries to talk to Jimmy, but Bob fears that with his company's upcoming medical benefit, they'll fire him instead of pay for his son's "pre-existing condition". There is a single reason for both Jimmy's silence and Anne's newfound faith, and it's remarkably underwhelming. Fanning also plays the big reveal too understated for my tastes; the scene might have been more effective if she'd shown more resistance and anger.
Fragments was directed by Rowan Woods, and Woods does some things effectively. The shootout is cut in throughout the movie, generally from the perspective of the character we're about to focus on. Similar to Charlie's story, it's no revolution in filmmaking, but it's one of the elements that works very well, with slightly more of the event playing out during each flashback. Otherwise, the film is more of a performance piece than a directorial tour-de-force.
What does it all mean? That's the open-ended question Fragments tries to pose, and it doesn't work. Regardless of the fact that real life never ties itself up into neat little packages (most movies are unrealistic in one way or another), the challenges are insurmountable. Telling a story from one perspective is hard enough; telling one from several is just making things tougher on everyone. Fragments, has no answer to what it all means, and the fact that none of the characters reach a satisfactory conclusion only makes it more obvious. It's not terrible, due to some fine performances, but in the end, Fragments lives up to its title, becoming a string of cut-up stories about people we know too little about.
Fragments: another strong contender for Most Cliche DVD Art of the Year Award, with a potential nom in the Lifetime Achievement category. Broken glass with big heads on the pieces! I imagine it will work, too -- big names attract rental business, although Guy Pearce doesn't even look like himself, really. The back cover is pretty standard, except for one glaring flaw: they put lines through the critic's quote at the top to give the text a "fractured" look, but the effect looks insanely lazy, like someone just erased some lines through it using MS Paint. Remember, folks, it's not how elaborate or how expensive your trick is, just that the audience can't look at it and immediately see how you did it. There is no insert, the case is an Eco-Box and the disc has somewhat vague image on it.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Fragments looks very good on standard definition. Thankfully, the film avoids having that weird, sheet-of-shade "Sony DVD look" that usually pops up on their titles, and I detected no edge enhancement or comrpression issues.
Dolby Digital 5.1 English is also fairly effective. Since the shootout is spread throughout the picture and there's some interesting sound design going on during it, the track often provides a solid aural experience. Dialogue is clean and clear otherwise, and sparse music is well-presented. French 5.1 is also included, along with English and French subtitles.
A lone extra graces the disc: an audio commentary by director Rowan Woods. It's one of the better solo tracks I've listened to recently, with Woods always talking and giving off numerous details about the production and explaining a couple of his artistic choices. Of course, he has a better opinion of his film than I do, so he often talks it up in a pretty high-and-mighty way, but it'd be nitpicky to hold that against the track.
Automatic trailers for Fireflies in the Garden, Moon, Assassination of a High School President, Dark Country and the hilarious-looking comic caper The Maiden Heist play when you put in the disc, while additional spots for The Informers, Blu-Ray Disc is High Definition!, District 9, Tyson, Obsessed, Nothing But the Truth, The Human Contract, Rudo Y Cursi, Impact, "The Shield" Seasons 1-7, What Goes Up, Dark Streets and Elegy are accessible from the main menu. First off, it's weird that Sony forgot to put a selection The Maiden Heist on the menu, and secondly, I just saw Moon recently, and thought the trailer gave too much away (I saw the movie without having seen the spot). Just my two cents.
Even Crash, in my own humble opinion, wasn't all it was cracked up to be, although I liked it better than Fragments, which makes a whole lot of fuss over nothing, in the dramatic sense. The commentary is a good extra, although it's the only one, and it will only appeal to those who enjoyed the movie. skip it.
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