3 stars (out of four)
Effective dialogue doesn't necessarily mean witty dialogue, but wit certainly helps, and you tend not to get much of it in a low-key legal thriller. "Fracture" is an exception. It features some pungent exchanges between, among others, Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling, playing a murderous smoothie and his adversary, a hotshot assistant district attorney.
Like Michael Caine, Gene Hackman and plenty of other pros, Hopkins is at a point in his career where the on-screen effort expended has become practically subliminal (and sometimes frankly lazy). The difference between a less-good and a good Hopkins portrayal is the difference between fighting boredom, and fighting it and winning--transcending the fatigue through sheer, wily craftsmanship.
Hopkins is more engaged here than he has been in other recent assignments ("Proof," "All the King's Men"). Even when he indulges in a bit of courtroom hamming, it's selective and purposeful hamming. As for Gosling (very good in "Half-Nelson"), he may turn out to be his generation's William Hurt in terms of pauses and tics and taking his sweet time with even the simplest rejoinder. But he's playing an arrogant young pup, and his naturalistic flourishes work for the character. All his behind-the-beat grins make an interesting contrast to Hopkins, who's like a rabbit, darting from one place to another.
The strengths of director Gregory Hoblit's drama may well have nothing to do with what gets gets filmgoers off the couch and into the multiplex. Its story begins with the steely engineer played by Hopkins shooting his wife (Embeth Davidtz) point-blank in their isolated L.A. palace, the husband having confirmed his wife's affair with the very detective (Billy Burke) who arrives on the scene of the attempted murder.
This is a whopping plot point to swallow, and its improbability acts like fingers on the windpipe of the story. I liked "Fracture" despite this whopper. It looks good, for one thing. Hoblit (who directed "Primal Fear") and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau shoot L.A. wisely, honoring both the relentless sunshine and the background smog, as well as the nocturnal atmospherics. The supporting cast includes David Strathairn as a wise owl of a D.A.; Rosamund Pike as Gosling's avid-eyed introduction to corporate law and to sex with a corporate lawyer; and Bob Gunton as Pike's father, who helps guide Gosling through his character's central question: Am I a corporate sleazebag or a man of the people?
Any promotional attempts on behalf of New Line Cinema to make "Fracture" look like a grabber or a thrill ride or whatever are strictly misleading. When the story arrives at checkmate you may feel a bit let down by its machinations. Getting there, however, screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers keep the talk lively. I enjoyed the exchanges between Strathairn and Gosling's increasingly desperate prosecutor, whose case against the Hopkins character lacks a shred of hard evidence. "What if I find new evidence?" Gosling asks. "From where?" comes the reply. "The evidence store?"
Directed by Gregory Hoblit; screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers; photographed by Kramer Morgenthau; edited by David Rosenbloom; music by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna; production design by Paul Eads; produced by Charles Weinstock. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:52. MPAA rating: R (for language and some violent content).
Ted Crawford - Anthony Hopkins
Willy Beachum - Ryan Gosling
Nikki Gardner - Rosamund Pike
Joe Lobruto - David Strathairn
Jennifer Crawford - Embeth Davidtz