In light of previous roles, it is difficult to watch Anthony Hopkins and not see him as an evil, manipulative genius. Fortunately, the audience needs not shed this preconception, as “Fracture” borrows the character of Hannibal Lecter — sans the cannibalism — for its own devices.
The film begins with an all-too-original formula. Ted Crawford (Hopkins), a wealthy aeronautics engineer, knows his lovely wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz), is having an affair. As expected, he takes his revenge by shooting her in the head and is subsequently arrested. Right on cue, a young, overconfident lawyer, Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), enters to prosecute the villain. It should be an open-and-shut case, but in typical evil-genius fashion, Ted has thrown a wrench into the equation. He has left no trail for the law to follow.
But the mystery is not wholly predictable. From the first scene, the audience is positive of Ted’s guilt, as is nearly every character. The problem arises on legal grounds when Willy must provide evidence, namely the murder weapon. The following 100 minutes revolve solely around this problem, transforming the film from a mystery into a psychological drama. Because the solution requires only one step (the discovery of the gun), viewers cannot expect a riveting series of twists and revelations. Instead, interest is sustained by a look into the inner workings of the legal world and Willy’s place in it.
The tense and sometimes humorous relationship between Hopkins’ and Gosling’s characters provides for wildly entertaining conversations. Just as Willy is about to walk out on the case and into his new job, Ted says with a genuine smile, “No, I like Mr. Beachum.” With a generous amount of winks and smirks, Hopkins portrays an almost likeable cat to Gosling’s mouse, and yet the malice in his character’s actions is not forgotten.
Likewise, Willy’s soon-to-be boss and love interest, Nikki (Rosamund Pike), establishes a rapport with Willy, challenging his priorities as both a lawyer and a person — two roles in clear conflict with each other. While executed beautifully by Gosling and Pike, viewers cannot help but wonder if the subplot was created out of necessity. Whether to lengthen the film, provide romance or clarify the ethical dilemmas of lawyers, the relationship seems rushed and sometimes unnecessary.
Despite an awkwardly introduced romance, “Fracture” remains strong and sinuous, with Willy’s motivation to outwit his meticulous antagonist serving as momentum. It is not just the pursuit of justice, however, that allows viewers to root for the ambitious attorney. The justice system, depicted as rigid and slightly corrupt, works against that pursuit.
It is the underlying theme of recognizing fault that makes for a compelling story. In a scene that avoids cliché through clever dialogue, Ted admits his knack for finding fractures in everything. Audiences might expect some brilliant insight into Willy’s character flaw, but it is simply revealed as being pride. A proud lawyer as a protagonist? Unthinkable. Nevertheless, Gosling plays it off subtly enough to be endearing, yet palpable enough that he must overcome it.
Throughout the film, shots of Ted’s ball-chute contraption are shown, a work of art itself. As the metal balls roll down the construct, chasing one another and running in circles, the audience is vividly reminded of the elaborate relationships between the characters. With Willy at the center of it all, Gosling constructs a character that is cursed yet determined, a perfect foil to Hopkins’ mastermind archetype. There may not be a thrilling mystery, but the one mystery presented instigates a downward spiral that is acted out expertly. Don’t expect fast pacing or an ingenious conclusion (despite Ted’s claim to ingenuity), but for what “Fracture” sets out to do, it does it well.
“Fracture” was written by Glenn Gers and Daniel Pyne, and directed by Gregory Hoblit.
“Fracture” received three out of four stars.