In the decade and a half since his memorable turn in The Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins has been getting progressively hammier in a Rod-Steiger-in-Oklahoma! sort of way, an actor whose style just seems out of place with the movies around him. It’s not entirely his fault, moreso that the movies just don’t have much of a place anymore for senescent thespians from the Olivier school; that is, for old-fashioned Britons. However, in Fracture, a dumb and forgettable film, he turns in a heck of a performance; though only in it for the money, he has a discernibly good time playing a charismatic madman which is, after all, demonstrably the sort of thing he does best.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that playing off of him is Ryan Gosling, who despite his Canadian birth is America’s finest young actor and hands-down the most exciting performer in Hollywood today. He plays the straight man to Hopkins’ quippy loon and struggles to keep a straight face, a formidable task in itself; Hopkins, having a whale of a time, is a riot, and the two of them together, particularly in the early scenes, are an infectious blast.
The surrounding movie, however, doesn’t measure up to them, as it’s working off of a clumsily, lazily constructed script and led by a director who seems the type to judge the quality of a book based on the number of words and not the quality of the sentences. Fracture is way too long—many of its scenes could’ve been excised entirely, such as, say, nearly all of the first two reels that show Hopkins, some sort of pre-eminent engineer, first at the office and then up to no good sneaking around; meanwhile, his wife keeps herself busy by adulterating. When she returns home, he shoots her in the head and is soon arrested for attempted—as she remains in a coma—murder.
Gosling plays the cocksure, superstar public prosecutor assigned to Hopkins’ case. He has an outgoing answering machine message that says, “It’s Willie Beachum—tell me what I need to know,” which, in its pithy arrogance, ought to tell you what you need to know about him. The case ought to be a breeze since Hopkins was arrested with a gun in his hand and subsequently signed a full confession; that’s good for Gosling, who’s got one foot out the office door, ready to start his new job at an elite private law-firm—the kind of place comprised of people who “play squash and have middle names,” as Gosling’s snidely informed by his idealistic boss, the always reliable David Strathairn.
But if the case against Hopkins is so open-and-shut, then why is he pleading not guilty? Well, it turns out to be a slam-dunk more of the George Tenet variety: the confiscated gun was never fired, and the detective who procured Hopkins’ confession was his wife’s lover. It’s all been an elaborate—and implausible—set-up!
Though lamebrained and cockamamie from start to finish, the fine performances of the two leads, who aren’t just phoning it in, hoists Fracture far above the level of comparable Halle Berry vehicles; it’s a pleasure to watch, at least until the final act when everyone starts taking themselves a bit too seriously. Hopkins oozes with the refined civility and seductive charm of Jay Gatsby—whom he recalls by relentlessly addressing Gosling as “old sport”—and his twisted and dangerous villain is exceptionally ghoulish in virtue of his intelligence, composure and sympathizability. (So you can’t blame Gosling’s character, who recognizes the threat such an affable madman presents, for going a bit nuts in his obsessive dedication to nailing him, though you can blame Hoblit for letting it happen so sloppily.) Gosling, for his part, lends palpability to Willie’s crisis of conscience, as well as credibility to his transformation from self-possessed yuppie to altruistic citizen.
After its dragging intro sequence, Fracture moves along clunkily though tolerably and it’s certainly not for want of wit; it’s only that, at particularly at two hours, it’s cinematic storytelling at its most mediocre, carless and far-fetched. The ingenious quality of Hopkins’ scheme is more absurd than brilliant, and a romantic subplot between Gosling and his boss-to-be goes nowhere and says little. The performances make Fracture almost worth seeing, but, though I expect Anthony Hopkins to be making such movies, Gosling, at this point in his career, is really above this sort of paycheck-scoring fare. Here’s hoping he doesn’t make a Brandoesque career’s worth of third-rate movies like this one.