‘Fracture’: Cunning, Arrogant, Sinister

[20 April 2007]

By Roger Moore

The Orlando Sentinel (MCT)

Fracture is a movie that gives us Anthony Hopkins the way we like him—cunning, arrogant, sinister, a killer playing games with the lesser mortals who would trap him.

Yes, the movie allows—invites—us to stay a step and a half ahead of the plot. We figure things out before the characters do. Yes, Hopkins is playing sort of a Hannibal Lite in this. Appropriately enough, he’s cast opposite Ryan Gosling, aka Edward Norton-Lite.

But funny thing about the brooding and Oscar-nominated Gosling in this movie: He grows in stature in Fracture. Watching him spar with Hopkins is Inside the Actor’s Studio stuff, an entertaining battle of wills and styles.

In Columbo fashion we watch Ted, the bad guy (Hopkins), a too-brilliant, too brittle and cuckolded aerospace engineer carry out an attempted murder. His wife (Embeth Davidtz) is cheating.

“Knowledge is pain,” Ted offers, at one cruel moment. “I’m used to that.”

He shoots her, though she doesn’t die.

Ted holes up in his palatial house with a gun until the hostage negotiator (Billy Burke of 24) shows up and brings him in and even helps extract a confession. Hot-shot, drawling deputy DA Willy Beachum (Gosling) is on the case.

Complications—the cop is the guy Ted’s wife was cheating with. The cop doesn’t reveal this to his colleagues. The deputy DA has connived his way into a get-rich-quick job with the powerhouse corporate firm across town.

“You have one foot already out the door,” his boss (David Strathairn) complains.

“Don’t worry about it.”

The deputy has a 97 percent conviction rate. He’s cocky. He doesn’t sense the way the accused shooter sizes him up and urges a speedy trial in which the defendant will represent himself. But we see what’s coming, and rub our hands in glee.

Director Gregory Hoblit, working from a Daniel Pyne-Glenn Gers script, dispenses with all of this exposition in a smooth sprint. Twenty minutes into the movie, we’re in court. And the engineer, a man studied in the cold calculus of murder—and getting a way with it—toys with the distracted, callow and soon flustered DA like a cougar tormenting a field mouse.

It’s delicious. This is a struggle between smart and smarty-pants.

The movie plays with our affections and loyalties, letting the wronged husband garner a bit of sympathy, even after he pulls the trigger. Hopkins has earned that sort of goodwill. Then, we switch sides as the greedy soon-to-be-ex-deputy DA is humiliated. He has to dig into his soul to realize that the new corporate boss he wants to sleep with (Rosamund Pike) isn’t as important as the brain-dead woman with a bullet in her skull, lying in a hospital.

Gosling is always a study in under-playing. Watch the way he uses the Oklahoma accent, the way a poor-boy-striving-to-be-a-rich-man hasn’t yet learned table manners or how to decorate that new office. He makes even the way this guy holds his fork a lesson in character acting.

This Slick Willy can’t hide his roots. But is he redeemable? Will he cut one more corner to salve his ego and get the “win?”

Hopkins, in a performance that comes off as something of a lark, is Hopkins-sharp. Ted is all wit, charm and ruthlessness. He is Hannibal Lecter without the menu, a creep we can love.

Yes, you’ll guess the solution to the puzzle before our hero does. You’ll even guess who the hero is supposed to be.

But even with those cracks, Fracture is a will-he-get-away-with-it done with verve.

FRACTURE
4 stars (out of 5)

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/fracture-cunning-arrogant-sinister/