For He?s a Jolly Good Felon: Hopkins plays the happily homicidal type once again.
For He?s a Jolly Good Felon: Hopkins plays the happily homicidal type once again.

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From the opening moments of Fracture, we know whodunit. A man witnesses his trophy wife cheating. He confronts her. Then he pops a cap in her face. He doesn’t bother to act innocent when the cops show up. “I shot her,” he tells them. Here’s the weapon. Case closed, it would seem. Or is it?

Of course it isn’t. Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), the murderous cuckold, has a twinkle in his eye when it all goes down, and though that first suggests far-gone madness, he’s really expressing delight that his scheme has been set in motion. Crawford staged the shooting as a hostage situation to ensure (at least according to movie reality) that the first person he’d deal with would be Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), a negotiator and the dude who’s been schtupping Crawford’s woman (Embeth Davidtz). Her name is Jennifer Crawford, but Nunally only knew her as Mrs. Smith, because, well, at the time it seemed cute that they didn’t know a thing about each other outside of the hotel bedroom. When Crawford shows him Jennifer’s barely breathing body, Nunally attacks him. Crawford’s arrested and brought to the precinct to give an official confession, grinning with feathers sticking out of his mouth all the while.

On the other side of the law, an ace assistant district attorney named Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is celebrating his last days serving the public before starting a position at a prestigious corporate firm. He’s called to take on one more case, though—Crawford’s—and agrees only because it promises to be over by lunch. Especially when Crawford asks to represent himself, in an aw-shucks-it-can’t-be-that-hard kind of way that leaves everyone agape. Even Beachum urges him to seek counsel but isn’t too upset about his next notch coming that much easier.

Fracture plays out like an extended sweeps-week version of Law & Order—it goes on too long, has extra-special guests, and delivers a that’s-it? ending instead of the bang it so fervently makes you expect. Director Gregory Hoblit— who fashioned a hit out of similar, if stronger, material in his feature debut, 1996’s Primal Fear—may be to blame for the pacing problems that make Fracture occasionally drowsy at nearly two hours. But as he did with Primal Fear’s Edward Norton, who nabbed an Oscar nomination for his role, Hoblit gets terrific performances out of his stars. Then again, it’d probably be difficult not to: Hopkins’ portrayal of a callous criminal has inevitably been compared to his Hannibal Lecter, and while Crawford isn’t nearly as psychotic, Hopkins’ approach is just as fun to watch. He winks, he smiles, he seizes your attention with his lined face and expressive blue eyes that suggest he’s way smarter than you are and is having a great time watching you try to figure him out. The greener Gosling, himself an Oscar nominee for last year’s Half Nelson, is equally dazzling as the cocksure lawyer who’s got as much charm as self-confidence in his ability to win no matter what the circumstances.

And the circumstances in this case are certainly stacked against him. The confiscated gun isn’t the one Crawford fired, and nobody can figure out where the murder weapon is. Regardless, Beachum continues his dig, and even if you don’t figure out what’s going on before the lawyer does, you’re sure to be underwhelmed when the aha! moment arrives. As with so many thrillers, implausibility is Fracture’s weakness. Unlike so many thrillers, though, the cat and mouse don’t get any more sensational than this. It’s best to watch them play and pretend you’re as dumb as the characters ultimately turn out to be.