Whodunits have teased moviegoers' brains for decades by offering up a host of plausible suspects with sufficient motives to commit a violent crime. 'Fracture,' however, puts a clever spin on this age-old formula by quickly taking the "who" out of the equation. Just a few minutes into Gregory Hoblit's ultra-stylish thriller, we see Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) methodically shoot his much younger, unfaithful wife, Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz), at point-blank range. Now, for most mysteries, such an act would be the film's climax or "big reveal." In this case, though, it's merely the opening salvo. For in 'Fracture,' the mystery lies not in discovering who the shooter is, but in figuring out how he intends to escape retribution.
Ted is a brilliant, meticulous engineer, able to predict actions and reactions with consummate skill. He's also a control-freak and master manipulator, and when he catches his wife coloring outside his rigidly constructed lines, he decides her recalcitrant behavior and brazen betrayal deserve the ultimate punishment. He concocts what he believes to be the perfect crime – ingenious, tidy, untraceable – and he's cocky and arrogant enough to believe he can pull it off. At his arraignment, Ted thinks he's hit pay dirt when the equally cocky and arrogant Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) swaggers into the courtroom. An L.A. County prosecutor, Willy is on his way up, and just accepted a lucrative position with a swanky private firm, where he'll work for the sleek, sexy Nikki (Rosamund Pike). But there's something about Ted that intrigues him, and Willy, who loves putting criminals away almost as much as collecting a fat paycheck, eagerly takes his bait – and the case – and puts his higher ambitions temporarily on hold.
Ted couldn't be more pleased. Like a rarefied Hannibal Lecter, he salivates at the prospect of eating Willy for lunch and sending him from the courtroom with his tail between his legs. Not only does Willy refuse to follow the script, he also won't play the fool (at least not for long), and the two men engage in a delicious battle of wits, as Willy tries to find the evidence to convict Ted and wipe the smug look off his face.
Films don't get much slicker than 'Fracture,' but there's plenty of substance beneath its Teflon coating – a literate script infused with a few choice nuggets of humor, a fascinating plot, and fine performances across the board. Hoblit is quite at home in the legal milieu, and though 'Fracture' can't compete story-wise with his first feature (1996's crackerjack courtroom drama, 'Primal Fear'), the film's look is so seductive, it's almost impossible to resist its charms. Whereas the direction of 'Primal Fear' often seems utilitarian and uninspired, 'Fracture' runs like a finely oiled machine (or one of the ingenious marble contraptions in Ted's home), oozing style and sophistication at every turn. Full of sweeping high angle shots and marvelous depth, the film effortlessly draws us into the story and under the characters' skin. Hoblit obviously learned a lot in the 11 years between 'Primal Fear' and this movie, and here his artistry is on full display.
Yet 'Fracture,' a film about finding faults in others, is not without its own frailties. Tiny cracks not only permeate its tightly-wound characters, but also its story. One of the pitfalls of chronicling the perfect crime is missing a stray plot hole that shakes the foundation of the tale when it's viewed in retrospect. While the screenplay by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers is pretty airtight, it's also too neat and clever, just like Ted's scheme. Everything – even elements way beyond Ted's control – must go exactly according to his plan for him to achieve his goal. That's a tall order, especially when dealing with unpredictable agencies, individuals, and procedures. Ted may be a supercilious prick, but he's too intelligent and precise to leave so much to chance and take such huge risks. So watching each component fall in line so beautifully just to further his agenda is a little hard to swallow, and the film loses some credibility as a result.
But 'Fracture' is more about the ride than the destination, and while we're on board, it's a satisfying journey. And most of the credit for that goes to Hopkins and Gosling, without whom this film would lose much of its sting. Both are superior actors, and it's a treat to watch them play off and feed off each other. Nobody combines relish with restraint better than Sir Anthony, and just listening to the lines roll off his tongue, each syllable impeccably enunciated and massaged by his lyrical British accent, is worth the price of this disc. Gosling must have been intimidated, but he more than holds his own, and his lazy Southern drawl immediately draws a class distinction between the two men that adds tension and conflict to the drama.
Sadly, intelligent, adult thrillers are all too rare these days, but 'Fracture' fills a welcome void, satisfying both our eyes and our brains with a smart, engrossing narrative and glossy presentation. There are no big twists, no red herrings, no chase scenes; just good, solid, grown up storytelling and great performances.
'Fracture' is a lushly photographed film, and this high-quality 1080p/VC-1 rendering beautifully honors director of photography Kramer Morganthau's vision. Clear, crisp, but never processed-looking, the transfer flaunts a lovely film-like feel that, at times, is downright intoxicating. Lighting is often a bit dim, but the image never looks muddy, and details are always easy to pick out. Lusciously rich and inky blacks, and vibrant, well-saturated colors keep the eye engaged, and excellent contrast lends the picture plenty of depth and dimension.
Close-ups never quite pop in that jaw-dropping 3-D way, but still give us a terrific feel for skin and fabric textures, stray hairs, and facial blemishes. Fleshtones remain stable and natural-looking throughout, complementing both Hopkins' ruddy and Gosling's pale complexions. Best of all, any digital doctoring has been applied with a subtle hand, and only a few brief instances of noise catch the eye.
This is eye candy for the sophisticated palette; not as bright and bold and in-your-face as some action blockbusters, but a warm, immersive visual experience that greatly enhances the film.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is equally fine, even if it's largely front-based. Again, lush is the best word to describe this full-bodied mix, which is distinguished by well-rounded tones, rich bass frequencies, and subtle atmospherics. An appropriately dissonant music score by Jeff and Mychael Danna adds a nice flavor to the film, reflecting the characters' harshness and the plot's cat-and-mouse nature, and its top-flight fidelity and tonal depth allow it to really fill the soundscape. It also exhibits a nice directionality across the front channels during the opening title sequence and some palpable bass during moments of high drama.
Dialogue, however, is the main sonic star, and only the most hushed, mumbled lines are difficult to understand. Surround action is sporadic at best, but some delicate effects bleed into the rears from time to time. Dynamic range is superb, with highs and lows always pushing the tips of the scales, but never deteriorating. And everyday details come through well, too; just listen to the distinct clarity of the Thanksgiving dinner scene.
This track might not impress your friends or show off the true capabilities of lossless audio, but if you're looking for a rock solid, pleasing mix that really complements the on-screen action, you've got it right here. Now, if we could just convince Warner/New Line to make TrueHD the default audio instead of DD 5.1, I'd be a really happy camper. Having to remind myself to change the audio settings – especially when the menu doesn't automatically pop up before the film begins – is a real pain.
The same measly supplemental package from the DVD version of 'Fracture' is included here. It's nothing major, by any means, but those who enjoy the film will find the material interesting. A director's commentary and interviews with Hopkins and Gosling surely would have been illuminating, but will have to wait for a subsequent edition.
Elegance and acuity define 'Fracture,' a slow-burn howdunit that's also a riveting chess match between two excellent actors. Although slim on supplements, this Blu-ray features great video and audio, and is certainly worth a look for those who appreciate well-produced, adult fare.
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