"Fracture" is the kind of movie that can get you really worked up if you take it too seriously and try to parse all the twists. Rather, the best way to enjoy it is to suspend your disbelief and soak up the actorly tete-a-tete that pits wily veteran Anthony Hopkins against young gun Ryan Gosling in the kind of courtroom potboiler that can be fun if you let it.
Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, a brilliant aeronautical engineer who specializes in finding the fatal flaws in plane malfunctions and crashes. It's the type of charming villain role he's done a number of times but perfectly suits his crinkly eyed smirk.
Ted discovers that his beautiful young wife, Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz), is having an affair, spies on the lovers at a hotel, then waits for her at home, where he cold-bloodedly shoots her in the face.
Completely unflustered, Ted meticulously cleans himself up and waits for the police to arrive, then hands over a crucial piece of evidence before making his confession. An open-and-shut case for hotshot prosecutor Willy Beachum (Gosling). Or is it?
Willy is the kind of rising star who's in such a hurry to get to the top that he brushes his teeth in the shower and checks his ethics when they become inconvenient. He's got one foot out the door of the L.A. County District Attorney's Office on his way to a lucrative job in the corporate sector and is in that position where one sometimes makes a mistake that otherwise might be avoided.
The film is sleekly directed by Gregory Hoblit ("Primal Fear"), giving downtown L.A. some nice aerial advertising for loft-living and a glossy presentation of Bunker Hill courtesy of director of photography Kramer Morgenthau, production designer Paul Eads and their crews. Written by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers from a story by Pyne, the script is as fine tuned as one of the brass sculptures that Ted fancies featuring balls rolling on intricate tracks, as long as it keeps to its main plot. It's packed with a surprising amount of humor, especially in a goofy courtroom scene in which Ted and Willy first come face to face, and could have benefited from even more of the same.
There are references in the film to class issues and an ostensible morality battle for Willy's soul, but it's essentially an average episode of "Law & Order" gussied up with glossy visuals and stretched to feature length. What it's really about is the Making of a Movie Star.
Gosling earned the respect of critics in 2001 with "The Believer," scored box-office cred in 2004's "The Notebook," and an Oscar nomination, Spirit Award and a slew of other kudos for "Half Nelson." But what "Fracture" gives Gosling is the kind of pairing that helped elevate Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner to superstardom 20 years ago. Cruise squared off against Paul Newman in "The Color of Money" and Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man," while Costner was tangling with Gene Hackman in "No Way Out" and Sean Connery in "The Untouchables." Forget romantic chemistry, it's the mano-a-mano, passing-of-the-torch fireworks that really launches an actor into the stratosphere in the age of the blockbuster.
"Fracture" is at its best when Hopkins and Gosling are on screen together, bobbing and weaving with considerable aplomb. It boils down to experience's arrogance, intellect and wealth versus youth's cockiness, resilience and hard work, and the actors appear to have a good time playing the game.
The movie grows a little more tiresome and plodding when dealing with Willy's moral dilemmas and the less-than-convincing romance that develops with his future corporate boss, Nikki (Rosamund Pike). David Strathairn ably plays the pragmatic D.A., but his scenes with Gosling in which they discuss the hard lessons of the great comeuppance play pretty dry compared with the rest of the movie.
"Fracture." MPAA rating: R for language and some violent content. Run time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.