One Smart Little Thriller

The hero of Fracture is Willy Beachum, a hot young prosecutor for the city. He rarely loses a case. He’s conservative, but edgy. People like being around him because he’s a winner, but he’s a little too cocky for his own good.

Fracture is more than a little like Willy Beachum.

One of the great things the film has going for it is director Gregory Hoblit, a filmmaker who takes his time developing his projects and only rarely slips up. Critics may not be overly fond of his work because he’s not hip or edgy enough; but his conservative adherence to sound filmmaking techniques seems to work well enough for audiences. Think Hart’s War; think Frequency; think Fallen, if you really must.

Ryan Gosling as Willy in FractureReally, though, think Hoblit’s feature film debut, Primal Fear—and then switch the roles. Make the hotshot the young kid, and make the older guy the psychopathic genius killer, and there, some ten years down the road, you have Fracture. And just as Edward Norton was the best thing about Primal Fear, the same can be said of Fracture’s young star, Ryan Gosling.

But Hoblit doesn’t repeat himself with Fracture. Not at all. Unlike Richard Gere’s cocky attorney in Primal Fear, the only character flaw that Gosling’s Beachum has is his ambition. Other than that, he’s a straight arrow: principled, determined, scrupulous. Which is not to say he isn’t tempted to bend the rules to nail his adversary; but unlike the heroes of so many thrillers—say Halle Berry’s Rowena in last week’s dismal Perfect Strangers—Beachum is a guy who’s easy to root for. He’s heroic, if no crusader, and he fares better with the moral predicaments of his profession than Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness did in The Untouchables.

So you’ve got Hoblit, and you’ve got Gosling. You also have Anthony Hopkins as the villain, which is generally not a bad thing. Hopkins is Ted Crawford, a successful aeronautics inventor and entrepreneur who, like Beachum, worked his way up from the ground floor. Also like Beachum, he loves winning. He’s intelligent. And his wife is cheating on him (not that it’s any great surprise to him, to her, or to us). What Crawford wants to do is get away with murder—and that’s where Beachum comes in.

After Crawford murders his wife—and this is no spoiler; we see him do it in the film’s opening sequences—Beachum gets assigned the case. The arresting officer, it turns out, was the man with whom Crawford’s wife was sleeping. Naturally, this complicates and compromises the city’s case, and is the linchpin of Crawford’s plan to get away with murder.

However, as other complications in the case arise—and as Beachum is increasingly torn between his upwardly- and corporately-mobile aspirations and his dogged loyalty to the case—everyone’s plans go a little awry. This is no murder mystery; it’s no courtroom drama, either, and it’s no detective tale or CSI. It’s a cerebral psychological thriller that simply asks: Will Crawford get away with it?

Based on the audience reaction at the screening I attended, I’d say that Hoblit not only accomplished exactly what he wanted with Fracture—I’d also say that audiences will probably find just what they need here, too.

Still, I found Fracture, entertaining though it may be, just a little too smart in the pants for its own good—like both Crawford and Beachum. Follow the gun, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Fracture is rated R “for language and some violent content.” The movie doesn’t sandbag the audience, at the very least. If the first forty-five minutes or so don’t offend you, the remainder won’t either. The credit sequence contains the most skin, and Hopkins gets most of Crawford’s salty talk out of the way in his opening banter with various characters. Still, it seems that Hoblit was deliberately trying for an R-rating here, with underlying material that really only warrants a PG-13. The language in particular seems very forced for these characters. Must be a target-audience thing.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Greg attended a promotional screening of Fracture.