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Fracture’ breaks mold for murder thrillers

James Costa | Thursday, April 26, 2007

Gore Vidal once said of Los Angeles, “It is unique in its bright horror.” And after spending two hours in the theater watching Gregory Hoblit’s “Fracture,” it seems that he’s right. It is a gripping film with all the twists and shocks you’d expect out of an LA cat-and-mouse murder thriller. But it’s also a lot more: intelligent, witty and far more thought provoking than most movies today.

The film’s basic premise is that very successful aeronautical engineer Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) attempts to murder his wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz). After the cops surround his home, he surrenders peacefully and acts extremely cooperative. He even gives the arresting officers the murder weapon. (Don’t worry; I’m not giving anything away. You can see all this in the preview.) Yet from here, everything starts to get confusing. A rising star out of the District Attorney’s office, Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) takes on the case just before he’s set to change jobs and join a major LA law firm. The film hits its stride once Beachum and Crawford meet and develop an intense rivalry of mind and cunning, a tension that runs through the rest of the film.

It is clear that Gregory Hoblit constructs his film in a genre he has been successful in; the comfort shows. After directing films like “Primal Fear” and “Hart’s War,” Hoblit again tackles the courtroom drama. However, he does not focus entirely on the courtroom. Rather, he takes the viewer on a journey through the mind of Beachum as he attempts to maneuver his own success and future – as well as the District Attorney’s office – on the axle of the same case.

While Hopkins is electrifying throughout the film, Hoblit does not overplay his role. He also does not place Hopkins and Gosling together gratuitously in scenes. This is both a good and a bad thing. It is good because it ensures that the film cannot be considered just another “Silence of the Lambs,” which became famous for the magic between Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster as a new FBI agent in the original film. The downside, however, is that the Hopkins and Gosling do share strong scene chemistry. When they’re together, it truly is riveting stuff.

The film is very stylish and slick in its production, a bit like the recent “Breach,” which starred Ryan Phillippe as a fledgling FBI employee trying to bring down a major spy within the Bureau. However, the film does not deserve classification as simply “smooth” or “stylish.” Sure, it’s full of gorgeous camera angles and superb lighting effects, but the movie also addresses serious societal issues in a clever and thoughtful manner. Rather brilliantly, the film juxtaposes the relaxed acting style of Gosling to the rigid and old school style of Hopkins to magnificent effect. While it always seems like Hopkins is performing, the viewer gets the impression that Gosling is mostly being himself.

Not merely thriller, the intelligent aspect of the film is its treatment of Gosling and his career desires and decisions. Quite applicable to seniors about the graduate and preparing for the real world, the film places Gosling in a situation in which the choice of to do right or to do wrong is incredibly important. It is not merely his reputation at stake. Rather, it is the reputation of the DA’s office and the freedom of Hopkins sitting across the table at the defendant’s desk. We witness Gosling undertake a journey that accentuates both the strongest moral rights and the darkest moral wrongs. Where does he come out on the moral scale? I can’t tell you, but it’s worth a watch to find out.