It's never a mystery whether Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shoots his wife. He does. We see him do it. He even confesses to it: "I shot her in the head. I knew it was wrong," he says. So why can't the cocky young district attorney with one foot out the door convict him? Many reasons, almost all of which make Fracture a suspenseful treat for filmgoers who appreciate a good story, clever writing and solid acting.
Problems with the slam-dunk attempted-homicide case (the wife falls into a coma) begin for Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling, Oscar nominee for Half Nelson) when it's learned that the gun at Crawford's home was never fired.
Furthermore, no fingerprints were found on the gun, nor were any traces of gun powder found on his person. If Beachum can't prove that the gun was fired, how could Crawford have shot his wife (Embeth Davidtz)?
The legal technicalities may be especially geared toward law students studying criminal defense, but at no point are they so intricate that it's difficult to follow what's happening. In fact, much of the film makes logical sense: Crawford shot his adulterous wife, and the investigating officer (Billy Burke) who took the confession just happens to be the wife's lover. This conflict of interest and the plot twists that follow, expunge much of Beachum's evidence, which compounds his frustration given that he's in lame-duck status at the district attorney's office. Accordingly, his love interest/new boss (Rosamund Pike) at the high-paying firm at which he's supposed to begin working next week makes it clear that if he loses this "easy" trial, he'll also lose his new job.
You know it's a strong cast when one of the supporting actors could've easily played the lead and nothing would've been lost, as is the case with David Strathairn (Oscar nominee for Good Night, and Good Luck) as Beachum's boss; it would have been great to see the underappreciated Strathairn in Hopkins' role. This is not to say Hopkins leaves anything to be desired: He's chilling as a brilliant but scorned man who's probably too smart for his own good. The character is one step below his work as Hannibal Lecter, but the impact of his cold stares and coy comic relief is unmistakable.
Ryan Gosling's role is more one-dimensional, but his sincerity brings credibility to Beachum's moral dilemmas and frustrating circumstances.
With the crux of the film geared toward how the lawyer will get his man rather than a whodunit structure, Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers' script is smart and concise, with just enough legalese and sex appeal to work on both counts. Most importantly, the story keeps you guessing, and Gregory Hoblit's (Frequency) direction, while relatively simple, is also moody and enthralling as the film moves toward a conclusion that's just about impossible to see coming.
Before the summer movie season hits and you forget what it's like to watch a movie that's not inundated with visual effects, check out Fracture and appreciate how good and important the fundamentals (i.e. writing and acting) can be.