Wednesday, June 10, 2009

On DVD: "Fracture"

Viewing Fracture is a little bit like going down to Spring Training—it’s fun to watch your favorite players getting into shape, but no one’s mistaking those scrimmages for big games. Fracture squares off one our most esteemed actors (Anthony Hopkins) against one of our most exciting young talents (Ryan Gosling), and while no one’s going to get too worked up over the result, it sure is fun to watch these guys work.

The film is directed, in the style of a slick mid-90s Michael Douglas thriller (down to its generic title), by Gregory Hoblit, who helmed the terrific Primal Fear over a decade ago and not much of note since. Like that film, Fracture is promoted as a courtroom thriller, but it is more of a character study; they also throw in some hospital maneuvering for good measure.

Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, a rich engineer who shoots his cheating wife in the opening sequence, coldly and efficiently. The shooting seems straightforward enough, but he then meticulously rearranges the scene, burns his clothes, washes himself up, and stages a hostage situation so that his wife’s cop lover can discover her barely-alive body. He’s taken into custody and charged with attempted murder. Meanwhile, Willy Beachum (Gosling) is a talented young D.A. on his way into the private sector; he starts a cushy, high-paying job in a couple of weeks, but he gets pulled in on Crawford’s arraignment, presumed to be open-and-shut thanks to his verbal and signed confession. But Crawford has got some tricks up his sleeve.

This reviewer was mostly concerned that this was going to be another of Hopkins’ sleepwalking-through-a-proto-Lecter turns (Instinct, anyone?), but he’s really on his game here, flawlessly portraying a ruthless millionaire as the perpetual cool customer. Watching his studied, precise, stripped-down performance, and comparing it with the loose, free-wheeling, seemingly off-the-cuff work by Gosling (who’s constantly having fun with food props and his down-home accent) is like taking a master class in acting—two approaches, both entirely effective. As soon as they put these two in a room together, the movie really starts—their initial shared scene (Hopkins’ arraignment) is sharp, witty, sly, and perfectly played. (The sprung humor of the sequence promises something fresh—a kind of legal screwball comedy—that the rest of the movie doesn’t bother to deliver.)

These two leads truly bring out the best in each other—it’s almost like you can see the actors sensing a worthy partner (as their characters do), and stepping up their game accordingly. Indeed, the scenes they share with each other are notably stronger than those with the rest of the fairly weak supporting cast (David Straithairn notwithstanding, of course).

Billy Burke is dull as toast in the key male supporting role, and poor Rosamund Pike (as Gosling’s new boss and love interest) can’t do a damned thing with her poorly written character and its entirely unnecessary romantic entanglements. The talented Cliff Curtis does his best with his bland role, but Bob Gunton (the warden in Shawshank) shares a memorable moment with Gosling and Zoe Kazan (yep, Elia’s granddaughter) is so memorable in her brief role as Gosling’s assistant that I went looking for her name in the credits when I first saw the picture; she’s since popped up in In The Valley of Elah and Revolutionary Road.

The music, by Jeff and Mychael Danna, is pretty awful; it wails and screeches and pounds and is too melodramatic by a half. Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers’ screenplay has some fairly clever turns, though it gets pretty ridiculous by the time it reaches its hospital elevator climax. That being said, it certainly doesn’t go anywhere predictable in its third act.

Fracture is an entertaining film and worth a look, but make no mistake—without the skill of its tremendously gifted leads, there is just no movie there. So take it for what it is: an enjoyable thriller and, primarily, an actor’s showcase.

"Fracture" is currently available on DVD; it hits Blu-ray on Tuesday, June 16th.

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