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Tying in with the New Line Cinema release of director Gregory Hoblit's Fracture-- Entertainment Weekly purported in their original 2007 review upon the film's release that if Ryan Gosling wasn’t careful, he was going to become a movie star.
And while at the time that was as true as it was when The Notebook charmer turned in his amazing Oscar nominated performance in Half Nelson-- in all actuality, the man who may want to be careful in Fracture is Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins. For Hopkins has not only cornered the market on playing creepy killers-- as even the name "Clarice" cannot be uttered without hearing him slither it in character off his tongue in Silence of the Lambs-- but if he isn’t careful, he’s going to become typecast to the point that those roles are all that he’s offered.
This being said, he plays the privileged sociopaths with superiority complexes better than most actors around and such is the case in Fracture which finds Hopkins at his devious and pretentious best.
When we first catch a glimpse of Hopkins as structural engineer Ted Crawford who at the start of the film follows his beautiful younger wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) during her extramarital tryst with police Lieutenant Robert Nunallay (Billy Burke), we just know that a cold blooded murder won't be too far along.
Yet instead of the passionate Film Noir variety, Hopkins' egomaniacal Crawford will exact his revenge coolly, clinically, and in a way that would've made even Hannibal Lecter proud.
Thus preferring murder most simple as it were-- to the Jerry Springer styled theatrics of confronting the lovely Davidtz (whose portrait hangs in the house as an homage to Otto Preminger's Laura) directly-- Crawford waits until his wife returns later in the evening and puts a bullet in her brain.
And he takes this several steps further, later confessing to the crime when Nunally comes to the house only to find his lover shot-- having failed to realize exactly whom the woman he met for idyllic poolside trysts actually was given their Hitchockian Mr. and Mrs. Smith aliases (a nod to the film about a couple that learns they were never really married).
The homicide of Mrs. Crawford seems like an open and shut case when it’s given to young, talented prosecutor Willy Beachum (Gosling) who is eager to leave his ninety-seven percent conviction rate earning minor paydays for the city of Los Angeles to become a climbing, wealthy attorney at an exclusive law firm where he’s offered a prestigious position.
However, this last case proves to be quite upsetting when Crawford opts to serve as his own attorney, waiting for the chance to discredit Officer Nunally and challenge the hotshot Beachum whose weakness for success and self-centered tunnel vision may be his downfall to the man's great pleasure as Crawford discovers Beachum's vain Achilles heel upon first glance when their initial meeting in court coincides with Beachum in a tuxedo-- no less-- on his way to attending an opera charity gala for his new firm.
While too much time is wasted on a trite subplot as Beachum finds himself falling for his lovely boss played by Pride and Prejudice's Rosamund Pike who is given no favors in being offered the metaphorical role of "the bad angel" sitting on the selfish Beachum's shoulder and therefore-- hiding beneath all of her beauty and shine-- the reason he went into criminal law in the first place, it's still quite gripping throughout.
Likewise, although director Hoblit manages to pull the wool over our eyes numerous times with twists throughout, two of the major “surprises” are fairly easy to predict to audience members who have seen more than a couple of legal thrillers, including Hoblit’s masterpiece Primal Fear starring Richard Gere and Edward Norton.
However, having viewed both Fear and Fracture again in Blu-ray for review within the span of months, I've realized something interesting. While Fear I'd still call the masterpiece since it's an undeniable one-man actor's showcase for Edward Norton whose performance alone made that movie work (even though we realize there are more than a few gaps in logic), viewing Fracture again for review two years later provided surprising results.
This time around, I discovered that-- although again, I felt that the romantic subplot should've been axed completely and despite his amazing talent Gosling is a tad young for his role-- it's honestly Fracture that has the far more intellectually satisfying screenplay in comparison to Primal Fear.
Demanding more of its audience that just giving us a method actor version of a magic trick (although Norton's in particular still works just as well nearly fifteen years later), the wondrous brilliance of Fracture is that we watch the crime occur, we're given all of the puzzle pieces. Moreover, we're fully along with Beachum and just as frustrated by the case as he is especially considering that despite Crawford's candid, in-your-face confession of essentially "I killed my wife," the underscore is "now prove it," and it seems damn near impossible to do so.
Screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers must be commended for their ability to impressively weave such an amazingly tense yarn worthy of any Agatha Christie novel but it goes against the tired mystery paradigm by simply taking away one piece and is bold enough to reveal everything from motive to weapon to details all the way.
Moreover, despite the fact that it's usually a bad sign when the cast is called back for rewrites to redo the ending two additional times after poor preview screening reactions-- now with this Blu-ray-- we get the chance to see the genius of the script at work as the film's roughly eleven minute ending evolves into something far more finely tuned. And in doing so, I realized that they never lost the essence of what they ultimately wanted to convey in the finale.
Although Gosling's character's actions are much more audacious and a bit unbelievable in the two alternates which makes it seem darker and Cloak and Daggers-like--coupled with overly dramatic and demonstrative post-production choices that complicate the denouement to almost nonsensical effect-- it's awesome as a writer to see the way some pieces were scrapped and others were kept to make the ending as dynamic as the one contained in the final cut.
While the Blu-ray also contains deleted and additional/extended scenes not used in the final print, unfortunately unlike Paramount Home Entertainment's recent release of Primal Fear, there are no featurettes or commentary tracks to savor the memorable meeting of minds.
The picture is impressive throughout considering how new the print is without a trace of grain or any artifacting nor some of the dullness in the evening scenes or sequences with a lot of grays, midnight blues, deep blacks, and rich browns which have been a past hurdle for WB with some of their newest releases including the disappointing DVD transfers of The Dark Knight and Yes Man.
However, those titles definitely out performed Fracture in the audio department (if not visually) since the sound balance was way off throughout with music that screamed through the speakers but the quiet near-mumbling style of Gosling and Hopkins at times made me increase the volume near the 60 or 70 mark just to try and faintly make it out.
Still, despite the lack of bonus features and struggles with sound, it's a recommended title overall as Fracture-- in addition to being a brainy and impressive film-- is worthwhile even simply for lovers of great acting just to relish in the sheer pleasure to be derived in witnessing two superb talents go head to head... even if I wish Hopkins would maybe take a step back towards Remains of the Day every now and then.
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