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â€Ë"Fracture’ delivers as an intelligent thriller

Latest Anthony Hopkins succeeds in letting the viewer be the detective

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The old, wealthy husband.  The young, beautiful wife.  The torrid affair.  The gun.  The perfect crime.  The surprise twist ending.  These are the main ingredients of “Fracture,” director Gregory Hoblit’s latest film, in which he makes generous use of Hollywood’s tried-and-true recipe for intelligent thrillers — films that don’t rely on super spies or billion-dollar techno wizardry to keep the audience’s interest piqued.  The filmgoer becomes detective, mentally working out the crime as it unfolds on the screen.  Every deliberate gesture, every word seems to have great purpose.  You will be discussing this film as you leave the theater. 

All of this is what makes “Fracture” both a good film and an annoying one.  It’s a good film because, for the most part, it exists in the real world.  The scenarios are not entirely implausible.  The dialogue is genuine enough.  The characters are people we can relate to on some level through their joy, their sadness, their arrogance, their intelligence or lack thereof.  It’s an annoying film because there are moments when you get the feeling you’ve seen it all before.  But who cares?  By that point it’s so much fun you can’t help but play along. 

Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) is the owner of a giant aeronautics company.  He drives a sexy, fast car.  He lives in an estate that would rival a world-class resort.  He is married to Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz), a stunning younger woman who is having an affair with a man closer to her age group and more emotionally fulfilling than her gray-haired hubby. 

The affair, it turns out, is not so secret to Crawford, who, undetected one day, spies on the lovers during their hotel rendezvous.  The jilted husband knows what he must do.  Crawford is an intellectual genius, a specialist in fracture mechanics, the engineering science that studies structural flaws in airplanes’ designs (both before and after they crash).  It’s a meticulous, mathematical science that requires great discipline and precise attention to detail. 

These are qualities that also describe Crawford the man, who will use them to his advantage right up to the moment he confronts his wife at home and shoots her point-blank in the face.  Crawford confesses his crime to Detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), called to the estate to talk him into surrendering to police.  Turns out, Nunally was the man Crawford spied at the hotel with his wife.  Who woulda thunk it? 

Jennifer survives the shooting but is in an irreversible coma.  Crawford is indicted for attempted murder.  Case closed.  Not quite, for nothing ever really is closed in crime thrillers. 

Enter Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), the hugely successful deputy district attorney who is in his last week of work for the D.A.’s office headed by the suave Joe Lobruto (David Straithairn in another of his wonderfully understated supporting role performances).  Beachum is a young, arrogantly effective prosecutor with the best conviction rate in the office.  He’s already out the door mentally, having snagged a cushy job with one of the most prestigious corporate law firms in Los Angeles.  His last duty to the taxpayers of California?  The seemingly open-and-shut case of Jennifer Crawford.  Before you can say, “What a cocky idiot,” Beachum finds himself in court, prosecuting Crawford and woefully unprepared for what ensues. 

Then there are the subplots: Beachum has an affair with his soon-to-be law firm boss (played by the insufferably gorgeous Rosamund Pike); the police cannot find the murder weapon; and the upstanding Nunally turns dirty cop, offering Beachum planted evidence to convict the very slick Crawford.

SPOILER ALERT: Crawford walks.  But the film is only half over.  So what happens?  You’ll have to see the film to find out.  But I can tell you that Beachum becomes obsessed with Jennifer, staring at her gigantic framed portrait on the wall of her living room (reminiscent of the classic film “Laura”).  As Jennifer lies in a vegetative state hooked up to all sorts of machines, Beachum reads Dr. Seuss aloud to her, hoping he can reach his only eyewitness to the crime.  His obsession intensifies as Crawford’s arrogance swells at getting away with the perfect crime. 

Discussions about the plausibility of the way the film unfolds will go on long after the credits roll.  Fans of thrillers may think they “saw it coming,” but if they’re truly honest, they too will have to admit the final moments of “Fracture” do indeed surprise, even if it was all right there, all along.  The dialogue by screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers is smart and peppered with some of the best lines Hopkins has delivered since “The Silence of the Lambs.”  Cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau paints a golden-sunset portrait of a sophisticated Los Angeles. 

"Fracture” is as much Gosling’s film as it is Hopkins,’ which is the key to any thriller: The good guy and the bad guy must both be intelligent and strong, steering us mentally and emotionally every which way to Sunday.  I wouldn’t call “Fracture” predictable, though there are some elements of predictability that can’t be overlooked.  I can’t call it brilliant, because we’ve seen some of the material before.  I will, however, call it smart, fast-paced and intriguing.  Not a perfect film, but a perfectly entertaining one.

Fracture

★★★



Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling and Rosamund Pike

Director: Gregory Hoblit

Rated: R for language and some violent    content

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