Ah yes, the "courtroom thriller." Has there even been a more overused and oft-abused sub-genre than the "courtroom thriller"? One could be forgiven for walking in to yet another "crime and punishment" movie with a distinct air of apathy and malaise, because (let's face it) most of these movies simply take a bunch of well-established, entirely familiar components, jumble 'em around a bit, and hope the audience members care enough to see how the "big finale" hits them. These films are often populated by stock characters, obvious contrivances, tiresome plot developments and nonsensical twists that have been tossed in seemingly at random.
But guess what? Gregory Hoblit's "Fracture" is one of those movies that will have many a seasoned movie-watcher walking out of the theater with phrases like "better than I expected" and "yes, a lot better, actually" on their lips. The flick certainly doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel, but taken as "yet another courtroom thriller," it's quite an unexpectedly well-made piece of finely-crafted formula. Plus it's got some really great actors in it -- and I'm not just talking about Sir Anthony Hopkins, either.
The plot begins as a respectably simple thing, which helps to make all of the eventual plot detours a lot easier to swallow. Ted Crawford is a lucky old guy: He's a wealthy engineer, he's got a stunning house, and his wife is a looker of the finest variety. Too bad she's also cheating on Ted, which causes him to shoot her in the head one evening. The cops and the district attorney's office see the case as a slam-dunk: Ted was found with the weapon in his hand, plus he gave the officers a full confession! So what's Ted doing acting as his own lawyer ... and pleading not guilty? Enter hotshot deputy D.A. Willy Beachum, a resoundingly successful young lawyer who's only about two steps away from landing a very profitable job in the private sector. Turns out that Willy's final case "for the people" is -- you guessed it -- the conviction of Ted Crawford. How tough could it be to win a case in which the accused offers a full confession? Well, this is the movies, obviously, which means the "slam-dunk" case is about to spin wildly out of control.
Those who've seen the trailers for "Fracture" and are expecting another Hannibal-style psycho performance from Anthony Hopkins will be pleasantly surprised by what the veteran actor delivers here. His "Ted" is nothing more than a very smart man who's done a very unpleasant thing -- and now he wants to get away with it. The glee with which he aggravates poor Willy Beachum is a palpable thing indeed. Hopkins is having a grand old time with this classy-yet-oily character, but he never camps it up or goes overboard. It's one of the actor's best (and most entertaining) performances in years, basically. Ryan Gosling is certainly up to the task. His performance as the cocksure mega-lawyer is full of ego, swagger and smirks ... and yet the guy is still somehow likable. As the case spirals wildly out of control (and Hopkins sort of vanishes for half an act) Gosling keeps the flick afloat with no discernible effort. And when the two leads cede the floor to someone else, it's usually someone pretty colorful: David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw, Xander Berkeley, and Bob Gunton bolster an excellent supporting cast.
There's nothing brilliant or revolutionary about "Fracture." It's simply a well-made crime thriller, period, and you know what? Given how many lame-o crime thrillers I see every year, I say "simply well-made" is cause enough for excitement. Infused with clever dialogue, fine performances, and some really excellent cinematography, "Fracture" is a noir-style potboiler that manages to avoid the potholes that ruin many a similar production. The screenplay is a surprisingly clever (and frequently witty) one that, sure, may contain a few plot holes here and there -- but it also subverts your expectations a few times and manages to deliver some familiar material in appreciably fresh ways. I expected very little from "Fracture," truth be told, but (as of mid-April) I'd call it one of the year's biggest surprises.