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112 min.
Release Date

Thanks to Tommy Lee Jones and Ashley Judd, most of us know the meaning of a double jeopardy clause… It’s strange how much law moviegoers apparently learn from courtroom dramas, even if they aren’t interested in the subject. That is, we learn what we need to complete the respective film, even if the actualities of the law described are inaccurate. Fracture, another movie in which a lawyer with a southern drawl throws the legal book at a killer, takes a series of tired court-movie platitudes and places strong performers behind them, giving audiences an ample mystery to deconstruct.

Anthony Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, a genius engineer who discovers his wife is having an affair. The first scenes in the picture show Crawford spying on his spouse and her lover as they swim in the pool at their rendezvous hotel. Later when she arrives at home, Crawford is there to greet her, and he shoots her in the head. Crawford washes his hands, burns his shirt, shoots a few holes in a window, and wipes the fingerprints off the shell casings—consequently, we know something’s up and that Crawford has a plan. After his arrest, Crawford confesses his crime to Detective Rob Nunally (the man bedding Crawford’s wife) in both written and verbal forms.

Cut to Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a cocky, win-obsessed assistant district attorney recently hired and soon-to-start at L.A.’s most prestigious law firm after finishing the Crawford case. While wrapping up things for the city’s D.A. office, Beachum couldn’t care less about the Crawford case, as he’s ready to move on to his comfortable new position for the exalted firm. In what should be an open-and-shut case, given the signed confession, Beachum acts as prosecutor to Crawford, who’s defending himself without representation.

With Crawford’s riches at his disposal, he hires a private investigator (a character we never see) to probe into the case and run errands. Crawford suddenly spouts out Beachum’s history, knowing facts he shouldn’t know, and it becomes clear to Beachum the confessed murderer is brighter than he appears. Regardless, Beachum remains unprepared for Crawford’s case as he’s too busy picking out furniture for his new office; Beachum walks into court with little more knowledge beyond Crawford’s signed confession. Bad idea—when Crawford reveals that the arresting officer, who was also in the room when he signed his confession, was sleeping with his wife, Beachum suddenly realizes that a victory may not be so easily acquired. The confession is useless, no one can find the real murder weapon, and Beachum no longer has a case. All this puts his new job to risk.

Plot holes are expertly shrouded underneath strong performances by Gosling and Hopkins; their skill with the well-written dialogue peaks whenever the two square off. And even though Hopkins gets top billing, Gosling holds the picture together, as his character leads the audience through both the case and his own emotional trials via the bureaucracy and inhumanity of criminal law. Whereas Crawford, while mysterious, remains curiously unexplained beyond an obvious taste for revenge. Hopkins plays him without flair, in a too-close-to-Hannibal Lecter way that seems almost run-of-the-mill. I kept asking myself what Crawford’s problem was, if any, beyond retribution; turns out that’s all the character has. For Hopkins, whose complicated performances range from Remains of the Day to The Edge, I expected more.

Gregory Hoblit covered similar territory when directing Edward Norton’s extraordinary debut in 1996’s Primal Fear—another film about a lawyer underestimating a murderer. Back in the mid-1990’s when John Grisham filmic adaptations were at their height, Primal Fear outclassed other pictures of its kind with a shocking depiction of dirty law. Fracture belongs somewhere around 1997… less gimmicky than A Time to Kill or The Client, yet without the depth of The Rainmaker. Since then, somewhat idealistic Grisham movies have faded out; this is the first drama in some time that depicts the lawyer as a just figure. The plot will seem familiar, but if you ignore the similarities between this and every other courtroom drama you’ve ever seen, Fracture will entertain with a solid performance by Gosling and a plot that does well with familiar material.

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