Willy (Ryan Gosling) is a hot shot assistant district attorney on his way to the big leagues of corporate law. His last case is Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), a wealthy man who has murdered his cheating wife and signed a confession, but nobody can seem to prove the crime. With his reputation at stake, Willy has no choice but to continue on with the imploding evidence, leading to an obsession with proving Ted's guilt no matter what it costs him.
When "Primal Fear" debuted in 1996, it stunned a lot of viewers with its endless buffet of twists, and its success bought director Gregory Hoblit a feature-film career. Times have been tough on Hoblit recently, so after 10 years of trying different things, he's back before the judge. "Fracture" isn't as off the wall as "Fear," but it's just as elongated; it's like a cobra that's been positioned to strike for so long it finally slithers away out of pure disinterest.
The pawns for a rich mind game between dueling egos have been arranged nicely by writers Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers. The conflict between Ted and Willy is a juicy one not only for procedural minutiae, but the tension accommodates the actors' bravado well. There's some tang added to the punch, early on when Willy starts to smell the pungent air of deceit. The initial moments of the two foes getting a good whiff of each other's resources gives Hoblit plenty of opportunity to ratchet up the stress and employ nice camera moves to work the audience into a lather; the payoff sure to be as exciting as the set-up.
Unfortunately, it soon becomes obvious that "Fracture" has very little breathing room to explore the characters beyond superficial stabs at love interests and formal wear. Hoblit fights to make the film interesting through an unusual and nauseating green and yellow color scheme, but overall, he's clinging to his actors for dear life. With at least one of these guys, that's begging for failure.
Putting Ryan Gosling up against Anthony Hopkins in any sort of acting challenge is like asking Vern Troyer to leg wrestle a coked-out Mike Tyson. Gosling may have rugged good looks and enough acting school brood to power his own corner of the globe, but I swear to the heavens, if he turns in another performance comprising of 90% indication, I'll fly to Los Angeles myself and single-handedly stop the industry from enjoying another sunrise.
Gosling is nothing but a twitchy, hand rubbing (and other assorted acting crutches too numerous to be listed here) drone. To watch Hopkins stroll in and exhale an entire character's backstory with a single breath only exacerbates how much Gosling is lacking in the subtlety department. His endless tic parade distracts the eye from where it should rightfully be: in the heat of the moment. Gosling may have potential (that is open to debate), but the man needs to staple his hands to his legs to keep himself from ruining another film with his needlessly expository gesturing and maniacal grimacing.
After showing what pep "Fracture" has to offer the audience in the early scenes, Hoblit lets his film calcify with a thuddingly routine finale featuring a Bond Villain-like explanation of evil deeds and switcheroos that require a little more concentration than the picture deserves. As courtroom drama, "Fracture" doesn't bother too much with gavel intensity, and as a psychological thriller, the film limps to an unsatisfying conclusion. Either way you approach it, "Fracture" just doesn't satisfy.