2007Director: Gregory Hoblit
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Anthony Hopkins, Rosamund Pike
he appeal of Fracture, I gather, is that it provides the dubious opportunity to watch a celluloid legend trade underhanded taunts with a young actor who may be his contemporary equal. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that’s the sentiment of someone who hasn’t. Though in theory it holds that a catty tussle between Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling is worth matinee prices for its pop-culture novelty alone, watching a dead-eyed icon throw it down with an exuberant newcomer turns out to be neither fun nor revealing but actually a little depressing.
Of course, Hopkins is an indisputably great actor, and there’s no telling if Gosling’s talent is in his realm. But taking a look at last year, Hopkins was the unabashed star of two massive flops (Bobby and All the King’s Men) that became favorites for anti-prestige venom, while Gosling grabbed his first Oscar nomination for an indie no one had heard of a year ago. That’s gotta hurt, and the juxtaposition of a rising career with one on its way out is not exactly my idea of escapist entertainment.
It doesn’t help that Fracture itself is a credit to neither of them. It opens with images of an apparent affair between a man and a woman heretofore not introduced, and a scene later the woman is mowed down by her husband (Hopkins), whose calculation would be more eerie if it were not clearly the work of a screenplay engine designed to set up an imminent showdown. Cue hot-shot district attorney Willy Beachum (Gosling), cue simultaneous private sector offer, cue last open-and-shut case before our young hero sells his soul to the corporate devil. A war of wits, or, more accurately, self-righteousness is in the midst.
It’s not long before Willy, put off by the pompous old man’s decision to defend himself, lets his ego get the best of him and is made a fool in open court when said geezer tears his case to shreds. What follows is a familiar whodunit in the Law & Order vein, our slippery hero convinced there’s some missing detail (could it be…a missing murder weapon?) that will break the case.
Had Fracture stuck to these modest aspirations, it wouldn’t have been much, but at least it would’ve stood up as a narrative. In an honest but futile attempt to elevate a one-trick thriller into a bona fide drama, the screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers insert a left-field conscience for Willy, a love interest, and even a little allegory to add useless dimension that not only fails to distract from the movie’s anemic backbone but chips away at the men’s cold amorality, which is otherwise its selling point. We’re not here to watch these guys have a heart. We’re here to watch them take shots at each other, and toward the end, they do that too infrequently.
Pity them and not director Gregory Hoblit, who excels at concepts much more than at the filmmaking that sells them. Hoblit has a perennial affinity for relationships between men, be it Richard Gere and Edward Norton in Primal Fear (his best film) or Dennis Quaid and a pre-Jesus Jim Caviezel in Frequency (his silliest). Yet the abnormal hooks that customarily bring home his characters—a time-travel radio in Frequency, multiple personalities in Primal Fear, a body-shifting killer in Fallen—are not part of the picture here, and Hoblit can’t fill the void. The camera mostly lies idle as his two lead actors duke it out dutifully, and there’s no visual indication of how we’re supposed to view them other than the black-and-white moral struggle provided by the screenplay.
As for the winner of the duel, I can’t imagine it will surprise you, though I suppose it’s only fair to admit that the two-part solution to the movie’s conundrum caught me pleasantly off guard. Whatever the material victor, though, the real loser here—besides the viewer—strikes me as Gosling, who with this movie shows signs of submitting to his agent (at least he got Rachel McAdams out of The Notebook). Any actor with a CV this limited and critical chatter this pervasive has to play it smart or cash in commercially as soon as possible, and with Fracture, he does neither.
Fracture is currently playing in wide release.