Fracture (New Line Cinema, R)

Anthony Hopkins does a winking riff on his infamous Hannibal Lecter performance (at one point, you half expect him to start gnashing his teeth the way he does in his first encounter with Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs).

 

It's possible to really admire a film, yet not find it particularly stirring. I knew when I was watching Fracture, a fairly entertaining study of legal one-upmanship between a sophisticated criminal (Anthony Hopkins) and an overly cocky attorney (Ryan Gosling), that it was a pretty well written and directed film (Gregory Hoblit helmed the picture, and I've admired previous movies of his like Primal Fear and Fallen). I knew the acting was solid and the actors seemed to relish their roles. And yes, the picture keeps you guessing.

But gosh, I didn't feel that cathartic release at the end that you often do when a movie has truly captivated you. The expected plot twist didn't seem that twisty, and I just felt sort of blah at the end. Maybe I've seen too many made-for-TV movies or crime dramas with this sort of cat-and-mouse legal wrangling. Hopkins, doing a winking riff on his infamous Hannibal Lecter performance (at one point, you half expect him to start gnashing his teeth the way he does in his first encounter with Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs), plays aging engineer Ted Crawford, who goes on trial for the attempted murder of his wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) after finding her dallying with hostage negotiator Rob Nunally (Billy Burke). Hotshot prosecutor Willy Beachum (Gosling) is given the case, and figures it'll be a slam dunk, so he can hurry on to the upscale private law firm he's been hired by, despite pleas to the contrary by the D.A. in his L.A. headquarters (David Strathairn). But Willy isn't counting on the diabolical manipulations Crawford has in store for him. Turns out the shrewd engineer, who knows plenty about structural flaws in complex systems, has devised a nearly foolproof way to destroy Willy's case. Some of this has to do with his wife's lover, some to do with the missing murder weapon, but it hands Willy the thing he's almost never experienced before in his career: failure. Meanwhile, his seductive blonde boss at the private firm, Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike, in a striking turn), wants Willy to drop this messy case and get on with the new job (and into her bed) already. But nagging questions and ethical dilemmas keep mounting for the young attorney; his confidence weakens as Crawford's increases. What the heck is a conflicted attorney to do?

What, indeed, and that's the bulk of the movie…watching Gosling get more and more frazzled, trying to explore his apparently limited options in a puzzling case. Meanwhile, Hopkins-just about the best actor around at playing dangerously sophisticated sociopaths-baits his rival with smirking phone calls and subtle, Lecter-like taunts. Both these actors do solid work here-you can't fault the performances of two Oscar nominees matching each other move for move, clearly having a grand old time.

But, as I said earlier, something is missing. Maybe the screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers leaves too much unsaid, hinting at things rather than showing them. Maybe there aren't enough gripping, muscle-tensing scenes. And maybe the denouement simply is too expected, even if you weren't sure how the film was gonna get there. Don't get me wrong; this film is mostly worth seeing, if nothing else for the performances, but it just doesn't seem to be firing on all cylinders. The weight of expectations is too high considering the names involved, and while there is considerable craftsmanship involved, the film, like its plot, seems to be suffering from some kind of conceptual fracture itself. | Kevin Renick

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