"Fracture," like the recent "Perfect Stranger
" and "Premonition
" before it, dresses itself up as a thriller, seemingly wants to be a thriller, but never gets above room temperature on the intensity meter. Director Gregory Hoblit (2002's "Hart's War
") and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau (2004's "Godsend
") bring a palpably stylish sheen to their Los Angeles-set visuals, but that is as inspired as they get. The pacing is slack, and the talkiness of the screenplay does nothing to overshadow what is actually rather inconsequential and shallow. Most damaging, though, is that for all of its would-be narrative twists, the movie is unable to give the viewer a reason to care, and the mostly one-note characters don't help the cause.
When wealthy senior engineer Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) spots his much younger wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) carrying on an affair behind his back, he nonchalantly waits for her to return to their Southern California mansion and sends her into a coma with a bullet to the head. Enter Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a young hotshot criminal prosecutor on the verge of switching to a prestigious private law firm. He is coaxed into attending Ted's court hearing, but what should be an open-and-shut caseTed has already written out a signed confession of the crimeturns into much more when the accused party pleads not guilty and demands a trial. Acting as his own defense lawyer, Ted embroils himself into a battle of wits with Willy, whose own future suddenly rides on the outcome of the case. Suffice it to say, Ted has more than a couple tricks up his sleeve and isn't about to go down without a fight.
"Fracture" is a bland courtroom drama leading to a revelation in the final minutes that is not only clever, but also quite plausible. The time it takes to get to this face-to-face showdown with Ted and Willy is not worth the effort, however. Screenwriters Daniel Pyne (2004's "The Manchurian Candidate
") and Glenn Gers do a respectable job of setting up the psychological cat-and-mouse game that forms between these two very smart professionals, with Ted gaining great pleasure in toying with Willy's expectations and blindsiding him in the courtroom with crucial surprise information. Meanwhile, Willy at first struggles and then becomes obsessed with cracking a case that could otherwise cost him his entire career. All of this is well and good, but it's at the service of a plot that is dull, slow, and not particularly dynamic.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that, as a protagonist, Willy simply isn't interesting or likable enough to rally behind. Ryan Gosling (2005's "Stay
") is virtually undisputed as a fine character actor, and he does okay with a pointless Southern drawl, but his Willy never rises above two dimensions. Little is learned about who he is or where he comes from, and most of the time he appears to be hating his job despite supposedly being passionate about it. Eventually, one finds him or herself putting the story on the backburner in exchange for hoping that Willy break free of his profession and take up a different trade.
By comparison, Anthony Hopkins (2006's "Bobby
") is cooly chilling as Ted, his calm yet slimy inner demeanor injecting his scenes with a pizzazz the rest of the film lacks. It's a shame that Ted is also underdevelopedit doesn't really make sense that he snaps so abruptly and has no detectable regret for his awful actionsbut Hopkins, echoing his iconic role as Hannibal Lecter, nonetheless makes for a great villain. The rest of the actors are given thankless tasks. David Strathairn (2005's "Good Night, and Good Luck
") portrays D.A. Joe Lobruto, who doesn't think much of Willy leaving him for the law firm; Rosamund Pike (2005's "Doom
") plays Nikki Gardner, who breaks Willy into his impending new job before inviting him into her bed; and Embeth Davidtz (2005's "Junebug
"), as the ill-fated Jennifer, lays comatose in a bed for the duration.
"Fracture" is sufficiently made from a technical avenue, but there isn't any joy in watching it. Save for that penultimate sequence between Willy and Ted, the film coasts on a plot that develops exactly as one expects, with a minimum of excitement or impact. The ending is satisfying insomuch that it can be without really caring about these two men's fates, but that doesn't keep the memory of the picture as a whole from fracturing into tiny bits the moment the end credits appear. The talent in front of the camera is too good to be wasted on something this trivial.