The Reeler


April 19, 2007


Old-school courtroom thriller finds most of its pleasure in Gosling's inspired puttering

A marble streaks down an elaborate mini roller-coaster under the opening credits to Fracture, which aspires to build suspense with the same greased efficiency. It’s an old-school courtroom thriller that unfolds with airtight logic and is structured around a series of inter-generational acting throw downs between celebrated thesps: Ryan Gosling’s inspired puttering about besting Anthony Hopkins’ Cheshire Cat-grin psycho routine.

Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, a paunchy aeronautics engineer cuckolded by his too-beautiful wife (Embeth Davidtz). Skulking around in his antiseptic modernist mansion, he offs her with dispatch. Then the plot begins in earnest, with Gosling’s hotshot assistant district attorney being assigned the case right before he’s ready to leap into the private sector for a lucrative corporate gig. Expecting a quick conviction, he’s hoodwinked by the cagey Hopkins who, representing himself, slowly unravels all the evidence mounted against him.

Director Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear) approaches the material with restraint, keeping the camera at eye level, and allowing the actors to add their own bizarre details to deepen their characterizations. He’s also chosen an unusually harsh lighting scheme, as if each actor was always under a spotlight in an interrogation room, and tends to employ unmotivated tracking shots when he gets bored. But most importantly he keeps the plot moving, and allows Gosling to do his work -- which is where most of the pleasure lies here.

His Willy Beachum is restless, a highly ambitious Southern kid who owns every space he saunters through. Gosling adds loads of detail: the way he arrogantly splays on the couch at the initial crime scene; pops nuts into his mouth like a nervous tic; digs into the mail guy for choosing a popcorn-flavored jelly bean; or the awkward overhand grip he puts on his fork, shoveling in his Thanksgiving dinner like he’s at a trough. These early scenes of exposition are the best in the movie because of these endearing eccentricities, and the supporting cast plays off him beautifully, including David Straithairn as the paternalistic DA and Zoe Kazan as his doe-eyed secretary.

Things screech to a halt with the dramatic money shots, though, as Gosling holds back in the presence of Hopkins, playing it straighter to let the script‘s able machinery take over. Hopkins trots out a watered down Hannibal routine, all icy glares and sarcastic put-downs. It’s a predictable monstrosity that could have used some ham, but Hopkins plays it detached all the way through to Fracture's elegantly plotted ending -- satisfying in its sober rationality.

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