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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"FRACTURE"

The key moment in Fracture comes when Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) points out assistant district attorney Willie Beachum’s weakness. “You’re a winner,” he tells the young man. Crawford knows that Beachum is only days away from leaving the D.A.’s office for a job with a high-powered private firm, and that his drive to move on to bigger and better things could potentially cause him to get sloppy. In fact, he’s counting on this to happen. Crawford is in jail, accused of attempted murder after shooting his unfaithful wife. He has even confessed to the crime. It ought to be a slam-dunk. There’s just one problem: the actual murder weapon is missing, and without it, Beachum (Ryan Gosling) will have a tough time proving definitively that Crawford pulled the trigger.

There are other complications that the young lawyer doesn’t know about, such as the fact that the arresting officer was the man Crawford’s wife was cheating with. (Not a spoiler: it’s shown in the first few minutes.) Beachum works to overcome such obstacles with some support from the district attorney himself (David Strathairn). But it’s the missing weapon that confounds him. Beachum is convinced that it’s somewhere in the house; he just can’t find it. The search starts to consume his time and mental energies. Meanwhile, his new boss, Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), continues to tighten the screws. He’s supposed to be reading important depositions for a “trail by fire” initiation into the new workplace. As the pressure grows on both sides, Beachum threatens to blow it all – to lose his new job and to let a dangerous man walk. His only possible salvation is to figure out what Crawford did with the weapon.

This is a great premise for a legal thriller, and Fracture admittedly fooled me. I was pretty sure I knew where the gun was, and it seemed to me that the movie wasn’t doing such a good job of keeping it a secret. Turned out I was wrong. Unlike in a lot of similar movies, the explanation is generally pretty plausible. (More plausible than the contrived explanation I was expecting, at least.)

I like how the film portrays Willie Beachum’s predicament. Haven’t we all been in that position, where something that seems like it should be easy instead turns out to be hopelessly complicated? In this case, there could possibly be lives at stake – a weight that Beachum feels intensely. Ryan Gosling is excellent in the lead role, convincing us that the character is smart and wildly ambitious, yet also so distracted because he’s being pulled in two different directions. I think that Gosling is one of the few actors his age who could believably play a brilliant young attorney. One of his strengths as an actor is that he always seems to be thinking, trying to figure things out. He has that quality, shared by many super-intelligent people, where you know they are absorbing every detail around them, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant. It is this very quality that makes Gosling so compelling in every film, as well as an ideal choice for this role.

Despite some very strong elements, Fracture left me wanting more. The problem, I think, is in the Ted Crawford character. Although well played by Anthony Hopkins, Crawford is as artificial as Beachum is authentic. His demeanor changes according to the whims of the plot. Initially, he seems like an ordinary man driven to a crime of passion. During the sequences in which he chooses to represent himself in court, he comes off as comically inept. Other times, Crawford is almost Hannibal Lecter-like, as he probes the psyche of his prosecutor and masterminds a complex “perfect crime.” In order to generate the kind of crackling excitement that Fracture wants to deliver, the character needed to be more consistent. It would have been much better had he come off as an ordinary guy who felt morally justified in his actions and wanted to manipulate the system to get away with it.

Because Crawford seems a little different in every scene – and ultimately feels too cinematically bad guy-ish - the film’s pace occasionally slows when it ought to be speeding up. It would be far more exciting to think that the talented Beachum could be foiled by an average guy rather than a seeming criminal genius. Beachum’s romantic entanglement with his new boss is also a needless distraction, although a useless love scene was, according to Gosling, left on the cutting room floor. Then there’s the ending which, while clever in its explanation of the gun’s whereabouts, turns into one of those stereotypically talky “here’s how it was done” confrontations between hero and villain. The finale is great in concept, but awkward in execution.

There’s a lot I liked about Fracture, and some things I thought could have been improved upon. You can take this review as a very mild recommendation or a very mild non-recommendation. I’m glad I saw it, and there were some very admirable elements to the film. Yet I have to acknowledge that it could have capitalized on the good stuff a little more than it did.

( 1/2 out of four)


Fracture is rated R for language and some violent content. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Fracture

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