Fracture: Hoblit’s Psychological Thriller, Starring Ryan Gosling

An elegantly shot psychological thriller for adults, Gregory Hoblit’s “Fracture” is sharply uneven: It has a wonderful first reel, a long and diffuse center, and then a good, satisfying resolution. End result is a character-driven suspenser that’s weak on plot development and strong on style and acting, particularly by Ryan Gosling, who gives a dominant performance that elevates the film a notch or two above its narrative trepidations.

In its good moments, “Fracture” is an old-fashion thriller in the mold of Hitchcock’s perfect crime (and wrong man) thrillers. Though it follows a different storyline, “Fracture” recalls mid-level (not great) Hitchcock suspense and legal thrillers like “Dial M. for Murder” or “The Paradine Case.”

Again proving that he’s the best actor of his generation (heir to Sean Penn), Gosling is physically attractive but not drop-dead gorgeous. But the camera loves himhis tall and slender frame, angular face, sharp nose, and melancholy eyes are made for the screen. Gosling registers strongly even when he is silent, due to his charismatic, mysterious presence. Unlike other actors, he doesn’t give all; there’s always a feeling that he withholds crucial knowledge and emotions. These qualities work particularly well in “Fracture,” in which Gosling plays a complex, morally ambiguous attorney.

The film’s first reel is smooth and brilliant, instantly hooking us with the story’s premise and its central characters. When Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) discovers that his much younger and beautiful wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) is having an affair, he plans the perfect murder and executes it.

Since we don’t know anything about the Crawfords’ marriage, it’s impossible to assume that it’s a crime of passion. The first time Ted is seen it’s established that he’s a meticulous, utterly rational engineer who needs to be in complete control. His specialty is fracture mechanics, an instrument for detecting structural flaws in aeronautical systems.

Among the cops arriving at the scene of the crime is hostage negotiator Detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), the only officer permitted entry to the house. To everyone’s surprise, Crawford readily admits to have shot his wife. But Nunally is too stunned to pay close attention, when he recognizes his lover Jennifer, whose true identity he never knew, lying on the floor in a pool of blood.

Although Jennifer was shot at point blank range, Nunally realizes she isnt dead. For the rest of the movie, Jennifer continues to play a major role in the puzzle, while in the hospital, in coma, surrounded by all kinds of visitors.

Since we see clearly the killer and the murderous act, we know that the suspense must reside elsewhere. And it doesfor a while. Crawford is immediately arrested and arraigned after confessing. It seems to be a slam-dunk case for hot shot assistant district attorney Willy Beachum (Gosling), who has one foot out the door of the District Attorneys (David Strathairn) office on his way to a lucrative job in high-stakes corporate law.

But in “Fracture,” like in most good thrillers, nothing is as simple as it seems. The screenwriters have the smarts to introduce early on the sexy and ambitious attorney Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), whose allure threatens to overpower Willys fierce drive to win, perhaps even quash his code of ethics.

Unfortunately, after Nikki’s introduction and a few brief scenes with Willy (and one bad sex scene), she disappears. You have to pay close attention to a Thanksgiving Dinner scene at Nikki’s family, disrupted by Willy, to understand the dynamics of the relationships. It feels as if some of Nikki’s scenes were removed or truncated, which might explain why the performance of Pike (who was excellent in “Pride and Prejudice”) comes across as incoherent.

Realizing who the players are suggests that the goal of the narrative is to throw a control freak like Ted Crawford out of control. But exactly how “Fracture” strives to be a tense battle of wits, a sharp duel of intellect and strategy, leading to the realization of both Crawford and Willy that a fracture can be found in the most ostensibly perfect faade. I say strive because the movie doesn’t always succeed.

After the first hour or so, the tale loses its dramatic momentum and suspense, and the movie begins to sag, challenging the audience to remain alert. You applaud the filmmakers for not dwelling on the case’s legal aspects and reducing the time spent in court to a minimum, and yet the script by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers, based on Pyne’s story, leaves a lot to be desired. While the characterization of the two leads is strong, the secondary roles are not so well-developed, and with the exception of one suicide, crucial plot points appear rather late in the proceedings.

However, just as we are about to give up on the movie, Hoblit and his writers come up with a snappy ending that gives the movie much-needed punch. The last confrontation between Willy and Crawford is particularly well-staged and acted.

“Fracture” is a typical picture of Hoblit, the director who made “Primal Fear” (still his best film), “Frequency,” and others in that it’s uneven, and stronger in style and procedure than in substance. Based on extensive TV experience, Hoblit’s technical skills are fine, but his tempo is not–not for a thriller. In many ways, Hoblit is a skillful director of old-fashioned genre films, as was evident in “Fallen” (supernatural thriller) and “Hart’s War” (prison-war drama).

Nonetheless, whatever else is wrong with the picture dramatically is more than made up by the quality of acting. Hoblit gets a wonderful performance from Gosling, who looks just as good in suit and tie as in jeans, and a good but curiously detached turn from Hopkins, who might have feared repeating one of his more famous villains, thus opting for a more restrained show here.

Nailing his part in two or three scenes, Strathairn is superb as Willy’s boss who doesn’t want to lose him.

Intentionally or not, with all the ethical and professional dilemmas faced by an opportunistic hotshot like Willy, “Fracture” makes a strong case for bright lawyers like him and Lobruto remaining in civil service, as opposed to greedy corporate lawyers in the private sector, but that’s the subject for another argument.

Credits

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 111 Minutes

A New Line Cinema release of a Castle Rock, Charles Weinstock production.
Produced by Weinstock.
Executive producers, Liz Glotzer, Hawk Koch, Toby Emmerich.
Co-producer, Louise Rosner.
Directed by Gregory Hoblit.
Screenplay, Daniel Pyne, Glenn Gers; story, Pyne.
Camera, Kramer Morgenthau.
Editor, David Rosenbloom.
Music, Mychael Danna, Jeff Danna
Production designer, Paul Eads.
Art director, Mindy Roffman.
Set designer, Stella Vaccaro.
Costume designer, Elisabetta Beraldo.
Sound, David Ronne.

Cast

Ted Crawford – Anthony Hopkins
Willy Beachum – Ryan Gosling
Joe Lobruto – David Strathairn
Nikki Gardner – Rosamund Pike
Jennifer Crawford – Embeth Davidtz
Rob Nunally – Billy Burke