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A Heartless Hopkins Gives Steely Edge to Fracture

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • 2007 4 Apr
  • COMMENTS
A Heartless Hopkins Gives Steely Edge to <i>Fracture</i>

DVD Release Date:  August 14, 2007
Theatrical Release Date:  April 20, 2007
Rating:  R (for language and sexual situations)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  112 min.
Director:  Gregory Hoblit
Actors:  Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Billy Burke, Embeth Davidtz, Fiona Shaw

For an actor, the downside of capturing the public’s imagination through a character portrayal is in trying to move past that one performance. Anthony Hopkins has carried this burden, having given a performance for the ages with his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.

Hopkins, an accomplished actor by the time he appeared in “Lambs,” has embodied that role twice more, in the lesser films Hannibal and Red Dragon. He’s also played fatherly characters and regal statesmen in a number of high-profile films, such as Amistad and The Edge. But as consistently good as Hopkins has been in those roles, his steely blue eyes best embody screen villains like Lecter.

Fracture, a legal thriller co-starring Ryan Gosling, gives the older actor his juiciest role in years, and the veteran performer makes the most of it. Although it lags for stretches, and Gosling’s character is far less interesting than Hopkins’, the movie is worth seeing for its portrayal of villainy and the cat-and-mouse legal game that will keep viewers guessing until the final moments.

Hopkins stars as Ted Crawford, an aeronautics expert who suspects his wife, Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz), of an extramarital affair. After his suspicions are confirmed, Crawford confronts Jennifer and shoots her in the head. There is never any doubt about his guilt.

Law enforcement descends on Crawford’s home and a hostage negotiator, Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), gains entry to the home. Crawford takes a ghoulish delight in pointing out the wounded woman to the negotiator, who, we discover, was also the wife’s lover.

A separate storyline introduces Assistant District Attorney Willy Beachum (Gosling), a prosecutor on a hot streak who informs his boss, Joe Lobruto (David Strathairn), that he’s just secured employment (and a hefty pay raise) with a private firm. He agrees to take on Crawford’s prosecution as his last case for Lobruto. Crawford has confessed and the murder weapon has been found, so it’ll be slam-dunk for Beachum.

With one foot already in his new office, Beachum is surprised when Crawford, representing himself, manages to raise serious questions about the evidence and whether his earlier confession is admissible.

Unfortunately, these colorful courtroom interactions with Crawford are too few, as the film decides to focus on Beachum’s out-of-nowhere relationship with a new female boss (Rosamund Pike), based on nothing more, it seems, than the glamour exuded by the two stars. Isn’t it inevitable that they’ll get together? Why bother to explain their attraction or the ethical issues surrounding such professional relationships?

Another subplot has the brooding boyfriend of the deceased, sensing that the killer might get away with murdering his beloved, growing ever more desperate to seal Crawford’s guilt. By pulling a few strings, he can manufacture evidence to fit the crime as he understands it. His only challenge is getting Beachum to go along with the setup. Beachum knows that to do otherwise would leave open the possibility of a high-profile loss that would doom his chances at the new firm.

Still another subplot reveals a growing connection between Beachum and Crawford’s comatose wife (she survives the shooting). Although Beachum’s sense of obligation to the shooting victim is yet another underdeveloped aspect of the story, the film’s treatment of the humanity of the victim is life-affirming.

The final 20 minutes of the film pull out all the stops, twisting and turning the plot into a pretzel that will choke some viewers but prove a treat for others. Crawford’s orchestration of events take on superhuman, practically omniscient qualities toward the end of the movie – but many viewers will buy into it because Hopkins’ cold, merciless eyes cast a convincing spell. Who wants a heavy dose of reality when the storyline’s strained revelations are this much fun?

Coming off his Oscar-nominated breakout role in Half Nelson, Gosling tries to keep up with Hopkins, but we don’t care as much about his character as we do about how Crawford might outfox the hotshot prosecutor. We want to see justice done – and to the movie’s credit, this desire is not left unaddressed – but we don’t have much invested in Beachum's professional or romantic ambitions. Up-and-coming lawyers just aren’t sympathetic to most viewers, no matter what sort of class rhetoric they spew (Beachum contrasts his humble Southern roots to “people with money”) or how attractive their lovers are.

Still, Beachum has his own moral code – there are some lines he refuses to cross – and that makes him more admirable than we might expect. We might enjoy Crawford’s ability to stay a step ahead of Beachum, but we also want to see Crawford pay for his crime.

Director Gregory Hoblit made a name for himself with another legal thriller, Primal Fear, which also showed how the justice system can be undermined by human depravity. The surprising turns in “Fracture” can’t top the knockout conclusion of  Primal Fear, but Fracture provides a sense of closure that was lacking in Hoblit’s earlier film. It sends us out in the knowledge that our legal system – despite questionable motives by those entrusted with its care, and savvy manipulation by those who want to escape penalty for their crimes – isn’t always a villain’s best friend.

AUDIENCE: Older teens and up

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; profanity; crude sexual references.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Some drinking; a verbal reference to getting “totally trashed.”
  • Sex/Nudity:  Lovers kiss and caress in close-up; a subordinate sleeps with his new boss.
  • Violence:  A woman is shot in the head, and blood pools around her; men physically assault other men; a battle over a woman on life-support; a suicide.
  • Ethics:  A lawyer explains how he got a colleague to “throw” a case; a man pressures a lawyer to use fake evidence.