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Fracture ***
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

FRACTURE
(Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner)

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz. Rated R.

There is little mystery at the heart of Fracture, the new thriller from Frequency director Gregory Hoblit. It is aggressively paced, twisting and turning its way toward a rewarding climax, but as rousing as the journey may be, the destination is never in doubt. It begins with a bang, quite literally, when wealthy engineer Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shoots his younger wife after discovering her affair with a handsome detective (Billy Burke). Police arrive, and Crawford readily admits to the crime, surrendering his gun and even signing a written confession. The trial, it seems, is a mere formality.

Or is it? Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a hotshot lawyer ready to go corporate after a successful stint in the District Attorney’s office, certainly thinks so. But holes in his case begin to emerge. The weapon seized at the scene isn’t a match. Crawford’s confession is thrown out of court. And his wife lies paralyzed in a coma, unable to finger her assailant. It’s a dilemma of Hitchcockian proportions, and Beachum, who cockily strutted into the courtroom assured of an easy victory, is suddenly on the verge of losing the case and his cushy new job.

Whatever its flaws – and there are some – Fracture is clever and absorbing from the start. Unlike so many contemporary thrillers, it never cheats; there are times when screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers seem to have painted themselves into a corner, but, remarkably, they tie up every loose end in a way that withstands scrutiny. There are scenes that feel needlessly self-important, and a melodramatic misstep or two, but just as the story seems ready to spiral out of control, Fracture acquits itself admirably.

Much will be made of Hopkins’ performance, and deservedly so, but Gosling proves a worthy adversary, gamely matching his senior sparring partner’s steely intensity. On the heels of his Oscar-nominated turn in Half Nelson, Gosling relies once again on subtlety and nuance, his eyes burning with ambition and desire, his wan smile betraying the smug self-confidence that might just prove his undoing. Casually engaging though he seems, beneath the surface lurks a fierce competitor lusting compulsively after success.

As written, Beachum is not nearly as layered or emotionally complex as Dan Dunne, the crack-addicted schoolteacher from Half Nelson. No matter – Gosling makes him just as real, holding his own against Hopkins, whose Crawford inevitably recalls Hannibal Lecter, but with one significant difference. Lecter always knew he was the smartest man in the room, but Crawford feels the need to prove it, over and over, until at long last he overplays his hand.

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