[Screen It]

(2007) (Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling) (R)

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Drama: A hotshot prosecutor finds himself up against a wily legal opponent as he tries to nail a man who shot his own adulterous wife in what appears to be the perfect crime.
Ted Crawford (ANTHONY HOPKINS) is a highly regarded aviation engineer, but his success at work doesn't translate to his life at home. Fully aware that his wife Jennifer (EMBETH DAVIDTZ) is having an affair with hostage negotiator Rob Nunally (BILLY BURKE), Ted shoots her in the head, and then allows Rob to arrest him, with the cop only now realizing his lover's identity.

Having just landed a job in the private sector where he'll soon be having a fling with his future boss, Nikki Gardner (ROSAMUND PIKE), city prosecutor Willy Beachum (RYAN GOSLING) doesn't want to take the attempted murder case.

Being told that Crawford has already given an oral and written confession and will represent himself in court, however, suggests to Willy that this will be an easily closed case. Willy's boss, Joe Lobruto (DAVID STRATHAIRN), certainly seems to think so, especially considering his protégé's 97% success rate. Nevertheless, and shocking everyone with the news that the victim and arresting officer were lovers, Ted turns the tables on Willy. Realizing he's now up against a wily opponent who seems to have committed the perfect crime, Willy does what he can to find something against Ted before the suspect walks away a free man.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
When it comes to the genre of suspense movies, there's the subcategory of the cat and mouse thriller. It's actually something of a misnomer since unlike in cartoons such as Tom & Jerry and its subsequent reincarnation as Itchy and Scratchy in "The Simpsons," mice usually don't fare that well when compared to their feline counterparts in the real world.

Of course, it's meant to suggest an adversarial antagonism where one side has the upper hand and seems certain to "win." Yet, that doesn't make for very satisfying cinema, and usually results in slasher flicks where only the last survivor manages to stand up to and usually dispatch the killer.

Far more entertaining, if you will, are the films where the opposing sides are more evenly balanced, resulting in something akin to a cat and cat thriller, even if one Tom might seem to have a slight competitive advantage over the other.

Such would seem to be the case in "Fracture," where an assistant D.A. with a 97% conviction success rate would seem the odds on favorite to put away an aviation engineer who's just shot his cheating wife, confessed verbally and in writing to the crime, and opted to forgo legal counsel so as to defend himself.

Then again, the presumed loser here is played by Anthony Hopkins who, unbeknownst to everyone else in this particular film including his opponent, once embodied the ultimate calculating predator. That, of course, would be Hannibal Lecter, and while Hopkins clearly isn't playing the same character, he certainly seems to be channeling a certain part of his personality. Although that might seem like a cheat on the actor and filmmakers' part, and could be viewed as a bit of a disappointment in terms of character novelty, the Oscar winning actor is so good doing that bit that most viewers probably won't mind.

On the other side is Ryan Gosling, hot off his own Oscar nomination in 2006 and playing the confident but not terribly cocky prosecutor who has one foot out of his city office and into the private sector. That not only means his interests and time are split between the two, but also that a loss in this apparent slam-dunk case could jeopardize his employment in both worlds.

Since not much time has passed by the time the first court battle begins, we know something significant is going to happen. And thus it does, when Hopkins' defendant proves to be quite the legal competitor and drops a nuke on the prosecutor that doesn't just turn the tables, but spins them around like a top.

With the assistant D.A.'s two jobs on the line and thus, by direct relation, presumably his relationship with his new boss (played by Rosamund Pike in a part that never feels developed enough to generate much interest), he must figure out how to make an end run around his now worthy adversary, all while being tempted to break the rules to save his own hide.

The result is a fairly engaging if only moderately entertaining cinematic chess game that lacks the necessary sparks and building momentum to make it anything resembling a classic of the genre. In particular, the ending is something of a letdown, a development telegraphed a bit too much too soon. And while the conclusion might be satisfying for those rooting for one side to win, there's no denying that and the rest of the third act feel a bit limp when compared to the general setup of the pending legal battle.

And considering this is, after all, a cat and mouse (or cat) thriller, it would have been nice to see more of them doing such battle, constantly eyeing and maneuvering around each other. Director Gregory Hoblit and writers Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers include a bit of that (as well as some nice bits of tension-alleviating humor), but not enough, at least in my observation.

If you think back to the exchange between Hopkins and Jodie Foster's characters in "Silence of the Lambs," they were clearly the highlights of a great film, and the stage would seem to be set here for the same. Yet, while that pic also had other captivating elements outside those characters' immediate interaction, that's something that doesn't always hold true for this film, thus making it occasionally feel like it's biding its time until the two characters engage again.

Decent, but obviously better in the first half than in the second, "Fracture" develops its own set of cracks that allow too much momentum to seep out and thus rob the film from ending as good as it starts. It rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 17, 2007 / Posted April 20, 2007

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