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Pairing veteran Anthony Hopkins with upstart Ryan Gosling in a smartly written cat-and-mouse game is a brilliant idea. They certainly deliver the Fractured goods.


Fracture is definitely not a whodunit. From the get-go, you know exactly who the murderer is: one Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), who after discovering his beautiful younger wife (Embeth Davidtz) is having an affair plans her murder--perfectly. At first, Crawford readily admits to shooting his wife and is arrested and arraigned. When the case is handed to ambitious Assistant D.A. Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), who already has one foot out the door to join the high-stakes corporate law world, he thinks it's a slam dunk. But nothing is as simple as it seems. Beachum finds out--in court, no less--that Crawford's wife was sleeping with the arresting officer, Detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), who never knew the true identity of his lover until he saw her lying on the floor in a pool of blood. The confession, now seemingly coerced, is null and void, thank you very much, plus the murder weapon is missing. D'oh! Thus begins a tense duel of intellect and strategy between the mind-game-playing Crawford and his wily quarry, Willy, who isn't about to lose this case on technicalities. Or is he?


Hopkins rarely ever disappoints, even if the movie he's in stinks to high heaven (remember Bad Company?). But when this Welsh actor gets a chance to really sink his teeth into something--say, a well-written script in which he plays someone slightly unsavory--watch out. As Crawford, Hopkins relishes every wink, smirk and stone-cold moment of a man obviously affected by the knowledge that his wife is cheating on him. And keeping up every step of the way is Oscar nominee Gosling (Half Nelson), who is quickly becoming one of this generation's better actors. It may be because he recognizes quality work when he reads it. Gosling never gives a false reaction as Willy, whether it's realizing he's been duped in court, quietly coming up with his own game plan or smiling sexily at his new boss--played vacantly by Die Another Day's Rosamund Pike. In fact, everyone else in the film pales in comparison to these two actors' intense performances. But that doesn't really doesn't harm Fracture in any way.


Watching Fracture reminds you of another smart but tense courtroom drama: 1996's Primal Fear. Maybe that's because Fracture and Primal Fear were both helmed by director Gregory Hoblit, a guy who obviously understands how to work a legal thriller to its fullest advantage. Empowered by a fast-paced, intelligent script from Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers, Fracture isn't about twisting the plot around in convoluted ways and trying desperately to trick the audience, as many of these types of movies end up doing. Instead, Hoblit hands in a basic premise--a man getting away with murder--and allows the action to unfold without baggage as Willy Beachum works out a way to nail his man. You might be able to figure it out before the climax is reached, but that's not the point. You'll enjoy the journey to its conclusion nonetheless.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.