This is a serviceable mystery-thriller that relies on characterization and performances to ease viewers over the bumps created by the twists and turns of the plot. The result is contrived and artificial, but it works as a good genre piece that delivers the requisite elements while also serving up a decent personal story.
In the time honored tradition of the mystery genre, credibility is less important than cleverness. Borrowing the structure of the old COLUMBO TV movies, FRACTURE begins with rich, privileged man, Ted Crawford (Hopkins) committing a murder whose plan turns out to be as intricate as the elaborate toy he watches with fascination (a sort of miniature roller-coaster in which marbles rolls and spin along a carefully curved track). With the question of “Who done it?” already out of the way, the rest of the story focuses on how the hero – in this case, a young prosecutor, Willy Beachum, played by Ryan Gosling – will find the fatal flaw in the perpetrator’s supposedly air-tight scheme. And as in COLUMBO, the vital clue revealed in the final reel may not be enough to stand up in a real court of law, but in the fantasy world of the film, it is supposed to be enough.
The catch here is that, in COLUMBO, the rich “suspects” were considered above suspicion by everyone except Lt. Columbo himself. In FRACTURE, on the other hand, Crawford immediately confesses to the crime, waves the preliminary hearing, and rushes to trial, with himself as attorney. Meanwhile, Beachum, who has one foot out the door toward a new, lucrative job in corporate law, underestimates the difficulty of this apparently slam dunk case – which goes down the toilet when Crawford recants his confession and it turns out the gun he owns is not the murder weapon. Where is the gun that shot Crawford’s wife, who now lies in a coma? More important, how can a prosecutor win a guilty verdict when it turns out the arresting officer, Nunally (Burke), was having an affair with the victim?
The murder turns out to be an elaborate set-up in which Crawford’s rush to trial prevents Beachum from obtaining any corroborating evidence – why bother when he already has a signed confession? We’re supposed to be impressed with Crawford’s manipulative trickery, even though it relies on the behavior of others over whom he has no control. Both Crawford and the screenplay take it for granted that people are as predictable as the marbles following the track on his elaborate toy, assuming that a police officer would enter a house with a murder suspect and set his weapon down where the suspect might reach it; moreover, it never occurs to Crawford that upon finding his mistress shot in the head by her husband, Nunally might lose his temper and shoot Crawford, due process be damned. (This is especially irksome because Nunally turns out to be someone who does not mind cutting a few legal corners.) Compounding the problem, the legal trickery by which Willy turns the tables on his opponent would obviously never stand up in a court of law; it’s a lazy writer’s device that the audience is supposed to accept without question, simply because it sounds clever.
Of course, you’re not supposed to worry about these details in a mystery; you’re just supposed to admire the ingenuity of the plot. FRACTURE goes a long way toward earning our suspension of disbelief by making the murder-mystery a sort of coming of age story for Beachum.
When we first see him, the prosecutor is a yuppie eager to leave public service for the big bucks, even though it is painfully obvious that he has no concept or understanding of the exclusive world he wants to enter (he can’t even figure out whether his new office should be decorated in English or French style). His confrontation with Crawford – and his personal aversion to losing – will force him to rethink his priorities, jeopardizing his cushy corporate job while teaching him the value of public service employment, even at much lower wages (as one character aptly puts it, nothing compares to the satisfaction, every now and then, of putting a stake through a bad guy’s heart).
Of course, Crawford provides the black heart that will be Beachum’s target, the bete noir who will prove that hunting evildoers his Beachum’s true calling. The nifty cat-and-mouse game between the two opponents is wonderfully played out by Hopkins and Gosling. The older actor uses the cold, calculating manner he put to such good use as Hannibal Lecter, and it immediately creates a David-and-Goliath imbalance, as the younger Gosling seems hopelessly outmatched, but he effectively charts the character’s rise to becoming a worthy opponent. If the character arc is predictable, it is also immensely satisfying.
In mysteries, plot is usually paramount, with character growth considered a distant second, if at all. The screenplay’s effort at enhancing the genre conventions with a little decent drama elevate FRACTURE step above more traditional fare. But even so, you come away feeling as if you have been watching a battle between two second-tier opponents: Lt Columbo would have seen through Crawford’s ruse from the beginning, and Hannibal Lecter would have eaten Beachum for lunch.
FRACTURE (2007). Directed by Gregory Hoblit. Written by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers, story by Pyne. Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathaim, Rosamund Pike, Embeth davidtz, Billy Burke, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw