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April 20, 2007 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | April 20, 2007 |

There’s a history of American male actors taking meaty lawyer roles to help establish their dramatic capabilities. I mean, lookit: Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington (Philadelphia), Ed Norton (People vs. Larry Flynt, Matt Damon (The Rainmaker), Tom Cruise (A Few Good Men) and … well, my theory goes to shit there, when you run upon Mathew McConaughey (A Time to Kill), Adam Sandler (Big Daddy), Jim Carrey (Liar, Liar), and Vince Vaughn (Wedding Crashers), but whatever. The point is, taking on a role as a lawyer is the hottest thing since mental retardation when it comes to gaining dramatic credibility in Hollywood. And following Ryan Gosling’s break0ut role in The Notebook, and his Oscar-worthy turn in Half Nelson, Gosling seems to be seeking the mainstream “serious actor” cred he so very much deserves by starring as a cocksure prosecutor in Fracture.

And for those, like me, who are certain that you’d be content watching Gosling read from a phone book, Fracture severely test that belief — I get the feeling that there are certain sections of the Yellow Pages that are actually more believable and intriguing than what is offered here by Daniel Pyne’s exceedingly dull, credulity-straining screenplay. It is not only one of the more slow-moving legal “thrillers” I’ve ever been witness to, but one of the more outrageously predictable, poorly conceived efforts to ever hit the big screen — the sort of film that makes Grisham adaptations seem absolutely dense and Kafkaesque. Fracture not only has a faint understanding of the law, but an even looser grasp on plotting and narrative. And it’s a goddamn shame too, because I’m a fairly cheap date when it comes to legal potboilers — I can get drunk on back-to-back episodes of “The Practice,” and “Boston Legal,” and practically black out on an early-era “Law and Order” installment (I am Sam Waterston’s bitch).

That said, Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins run a goddamn clinic on acting in Fracture, and if there were any two actors around that could turn shit into Shinolo, it’s these two (sadly, Fracture doesn’t quite rise to the level of manure). There are a few scenes between Gosling and Hopkins, in fact, that had me frothing at the mouth like a rabid bulldog left alone in a nursery. Hopkins talents are well established, particularly when he’s given a juicy Hannibal Lecteresque sinister role (as he is here), but — goddayum — that Gosling could sell a line off a hooker’s ass to a convention of Southern Baptist ministers. He’s this generation’s Brando, people — he has the talent of a great character actor and the capability to turn it into leading man material. And until he sells out to some comic-book franchise, he may just be my favorite actor of this generation — a guy that turns quirks and mannerisms into an art form.

It’s too damn bad that Fracture doesn’t live up to either his talents or Hopkins’, though for a good 45 minutes or so, the two manage to do the impossible and make you forget you’re basically watching a Perry Mason episode written by Judge freakin’ Judy. The story begins inauspicious enough: Ted Crawford (Hopkins), a millionaire aeronautics engineer, discovers that his considerably younger wife (Embeth Davidtz) is sleeping with another man, so when she comes home that night, he shoots her in the face. A little later, a hostage negotiator (Billy Burke) — who just so happens to be the same man that was sleeping with Crawford’s wife — arrives to investigate. Crawford, standing over his wife’s nearly dead body, confesses to the shooting. He’s charged with attempted murder, and brought up for trial. Case closed, right?

For the few minutes when you are wondering how in God’s name a movie will be created from this flimsy premise, it is somewhat fascinating, inasmuch as it nags at your curiosities. Then enters Willy Beachum (Gosling) a hotshot district attorney with one foot out the door (he’s just been hired at a big corporate law firm), who takes one last open-and-shut case before leaving the prosecutor’s office. Only, it turns out the case is about as slam dunk as WMDs in Iraq. Crawford defends himself and presents the ease of the conviction as a challenge to Beachum, which he naturally takes because of all that goddamn hubris. The stage is then set so that Beachum must solve the case or lose everything — and by everything, I mean he’ll have to find a new job.

From there, Gregory Hoblit (who also directed the infinitely superior courtroom drama Primal Fear) manages to drag what amounts to two plot points out into a full-length, meandering two-hour “mystery,” which offers up a twist that anyone who has ever seen an episode of “Night Court” will be able to guess. Credit Hopkins and Gosling, however, for being able to convincingly act as though it’s a cat-and-mouse game of wits, when in actuality, it’s a great-white-shark-and-slow-swimming-fat-guy game of no-shit, Sherlock.

Still, as preposterous as the plot becomes, as tedious as it is to sit through it all only to have the obvious play out, and as painful as the meticulous pacing is, it’s difficult not to recommend Fracture just a little to those who have a singular appreciation for the art of acting. Hopkins and Gosling are amazing to watch; it’s just too bad the movie isn’t.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

De Minimis non Curat Lex

Fracture / Dustin Rowles

Film | April 20, 2007 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.


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