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The courtroom thriller gets a big boost with Fracture, an underappreciated, entertaining show directed by Gregory Hoblit of Primal Fear fame. Fracture benefits from a steel-trap script by Glenn Gers and Daniel Pyne, and top-notch performances by Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling (Lars and the Real Girl). Gosling is a fresh find and as interesting as Primal Fear's Edward Norton. Anthony Hopkins plays a devious mastermind who operates on a more human level than the actor's famous Hannibal Lecter. The result is a battle of wits -- and, happily, a thriller that stays a half step ahead of the audience at all times.
Metallurgist and metallic stress expert Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) lives in a fabulous Bel-Air estate. When Ted discovers that his wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) is having an affair with police detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke of Twilight), he shoots her in cold blood and confesses all to the hostage negotiation officer, who happens to be Nunally. At his arraignment, Crawford reverses his confession, pleads not guilty, and insists upon defending himself. Crawford specifically asks for prosecutor Willy Beachum.
The ambitious Beachum is in the process of leaving the office of District Attorney Joe Labruto (David Strathairn); he's been hired by a prestigious law office that will pay him an astronomical salary. Willy takes on the Crawford case in haste, as the cops have both the murder weapon and a confession. But the deceptive Crawford seems to have thought out everything in advance -- only a couple of days into the proceedings, Willy is prosecuting a case without evidence.
Fracture is an excellent example of a courtroom mystery so well made that its own implausibility doesn't matter. That's high praise at a time when audiences reject the slightest imperfection in logical detail (yet accept the wildest and most offensive moral lapses without question). Anthony Hopkins' Ted Crawford is the kind of villain we love to watch, a brilliant guy with a plan to pull off the perfect crime. His murder case seems a slam dunk for the prosecutors, but we know by the arrogant tone in his voice that he has several aces up his tailored sleeve.
The modern courtroom drama usually puts a prosecutor or defense lawyer on the spot, fighting corruption and long odds while dodging threats from mobsters or political appointees. He often has an affair with another attorney, a victim's wife, or whoever, just to enliven the proceedings. Ryan Gosling's Willy Beachum is a buttoned-down go-getter who earns his shot at a big money job by working hard and gaming the District Attorney's office to avoid no-win cases. He begins as basically ethical but morally neutral -- he's immune to the DA's pleas to stay where he's needed, performing an essential public service.
Fracture shows What Makes Willy Run: money. Everything associated with his new job reeks of affluence, including the executive assistant helping him choose a motif for his fancy new office. It's too early to ditch his junker car but not to bed his new supervisor, the Alpha Blonde Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike). Cocktails on the roof are much more appealing than late nights in the DA's shabby digs. Only slowly does Willy pick up on other signals at the new office. The big boss is far too important to talk directly to Willy, and the lucrative cases he'll be working have nothing to do with serving the best interests of the public, or even the law. These guys think that pro bono is something a dog chews on.
Willy's saving grace is that he doesn't like to lose. He takes personal offense when Ted Crawford outfoxes him from his jail cell. Fracture presents Crawford as a true arch foe complete with "symbolic" character symmetry. Crawford analyzes people by studying their flaws, just as he would the airframe of a jet plane. He builds elaborate brass toys for his own amusement. Crawford can muster several different kinds of rich man's sincerity while coldly carrying out his diabolical plans.
The clever premise and story twists seem unusually fresh -- we let implausibility slide simply because we're too entertained to bother. Ted Crawford is just credible enough to scare us into thinking he'll get away with his crime: he loves to laugh in Willy's face and taunt him with late night phone calls. Willy redeems himself by finding value in Doing The Right Thing. Whereas many legal thrillers are cynical or defeatist, this movie leaves us feeling good about its leading character -- a lawyer, no less.
I could reveal more details about Fracture and give a better idea of the shape of the story, but I think viewers will enjoy it more knowing as little as possible going in, as I did. For those who have already seen the movie, I include a list of implausibilities that occurred to me only after the movie was over. 1
New Line's Blu-ray of Fracture shows off the film's slick photography. This is one courtroom thriller that takes place in beautiful settings; admiring the swank interiors and wardrobe are an added benefit. Even Willy's little house is located on a hill with a beautiful view of downtown. Local L.A. residents will recognize the California Incline up the Santa Monica bluffs, the one featured in the 1963 It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. We also get a glimpse of the Cloverfield off ramp on the 10 Freeway in Santa Monica.
The disc carries just a couple of extras. Besides a trailer and some "additional scenes", we're given two alternate endings used in several previews. The one chosen for the final feature is far better.
Fracture has little conventional action - no shoot-outs, no car chases -- and remains riveting from beginning to end. Perhaps it just happened to push all the right buttons with this reviewer, but I recommend it highly to fans of escapist courtroom thrillers.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Fracture Blu-ray rates:
How could Ted Crawford possibly be sure that Detective Rob Nunnally would be the hostage negotiator assigned to his case? How could he know that he'd have a clear opportunity to pull off his clever switch? How could he be certain that Rob would insist on being present at his interrogation?
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