Anthony Hopkins as a manipulative, overly erudite murderer stuck behind bars? Haven't we seen this somewhere before? Short answer: Yeah. Long answer: Yeah, but ...
Despite a few obvious similarities to Silence of the Lambs, the new crime drama Fracture lacks the pop cultural horror show aspects of that splashy hit. Think of this one less as a serial killer thriller and more as a high-tone version of “Law & Order.”
At least initially, there isn't a lot of mystery to the events on display in Fracture. As the film opens, we watch Hopkins' character—rich, successful, exotic car-driving Ted Crawford—shoot his adulterous wife (Mansfield Park's Embeth Davidtz) in cold blood. Calmly, he waits for the police to arrive and confesses to the crime. Clearly, he’s playing some sort of game here, but what is it?
Assigned to prosecute Hopkins is hotshot assistant D.A. Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling, hot off his Oscar nod for Half Nelson). Beachum is a short-timer at the D.A.'s office, having been headhunted by a major corporate law firm. He’s sure this open-and-shut case is going to be his last in public practice and is eager to get it over with quickly. But when the case hits court, the calculating Mr. Crawford starts laying out his gameplan. He asks to defend himself and insists that Beachum handle the prosecution. Seriously, what is this geezer playing at?
Hopkins’ character is a structural engineer, an expert at spotting cracks and flaws—a skill that apparently crosses over into human beings as well. ... Yeah, I don't buy it either, but it makes for a nifty metaphor. With his near-supernatural analytical skills, Hopkins has pegged the flaws in everyone around him, and he knows just how to manipulate them. That applies especially to the cocky young D.A. he’s sparring with. Beachum's flaw? He's a winner. All Crawford has to do is play tortoise to Beachum’s hare. After a few days in trial, during which he makes no attempt to defend himself, Crawford drops his bombshell: The police officer who arrested him, the one he confessed his crime to, is the very man who was sleeping with his wife. It seems that Crawford has set up everything—the crime, the confession, the arrest, the trial—to punish both his wife and her lover and to create a situation where his conviction would be thrown out of court on a technicality.
Beachum doesn't take this lying down, however. Putting his cushy new corporate gig in jeopardy, he pushes ahead with the trial. With the confession inadmissable, Beachum needs to find some crucial piece of evidence to link Crawford definitively to the crime.
Like its main character, Fracture is slow and methodical. It never quite gets the blood pumping the way it probably should. You certainly can’t go in expecting anything like Hannibal Lecter’s flaying-filled escape from court in Silence of the Lambs. But it does have a smart script and a wealth of credible actors at its disposal. Director Gregory Hoblit puts his long history helming episodes of “NYPD Blue,” “L.A. Law” and “Hill Street Blues” to good use, building a glossy, twisty, occasionally sexy procedural. A sense of humor helps as well, with Hopkins’ character positively gleeful at the prospect of getting away with murder. Crawford really seems to enjoy his little mind games, even more so than our favorite cannibal. (Though you do keep expecting Crawford to ask Beachum to “tell me about the lambs.”) What Fracture lacks in visceral thrills it makes up for in compelling narrative. Will Crawford pull off the perfect crime? Or will our young Perry Mason figure out the clues. A good portion of the audience will probably sniff out the “solution” long before the characters in the film do, but that doesn’t take away from the fun too awful much.
Fracture is a mature film, aimed squarely at adult audiences, and it rewards them for coming with a literate, well thought-out story. Less of a bloody psycho thriller and more of a well-manicured legal drama, Fracture nonetheless carves out its own credible little niche in the pre-summer box office.