Story Highlights• Tom Charity: "Fracture" briskly entertaining, with good acting
• Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling play off each other well
• Plot has holes, but film moves enough you don't care
By Tom Charity
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- "Does it bother you that I call you 'Willy'?" Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) inquires of prosecuting attorney Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling). "Very well then: Willy ..." Hopkins teases out every ounce of absurdity he can find in the name. A boy's name, surely, not a name for a high-powered attorney?
The two men don't actually pull down their trousers and compare sizes, but the subtext is there. Crawford is a brilliant engineer, wealthy, drives a sports car -- fast. But he's also a cuckold who would rather shoot his wife in the head than let her walk out on him. He disposes of the evidence, then casually hands the gun over to the cops and confesses to the crime. Opting to defend himself in court, he enters a plea of "not guilty."
Talk about mixed messages.
Beachum suspects the defendant must be crazy. Then again, he's so fixated on an imminent move into the corporate sector he fails to notice his last, apparently open-and-shut case is booby-trapped.
The prosecution has the confession, and a gun ... but it's not the gun. Before he knows it, Beachum's airtight prosecution is unraveling right there in open court. It's embarrassing, and worse, it could cost him that job. Crawford has set the scene, and he's evidently sized our Willy as the patsy.
"Fracture" -- scripted by Glenn Gers and Daniel Pyne with a good deal more polish than spit -- is one of those courtroom dramas where twists multiply like worms. Cut one up, you have two more on your hands.
"Look close enough, you'll find everyone has a weak spot," Crawford is solicitous enough to inform his adversary.
Actually, you don't have to look all that close to find the flaws in Crawford's elaborate but ludicrously risky "perfect murder." And anyone who has had any dealings with the judicial system (or watched TV) may also find it hard to swallow a homicide trial scheduled within a day or two of the crime (thus allowing Beachum to take the case just a week before he jumps ship for the big bucks).
And then it seems to take an age for Gosling's supposedly hotshot lawyer to wise up to one transparent but critical plant -- though it does score bonus points for Freudian symbolism.
Normally these defects might weigh heavily against this kind of movie. But in "Fracture's" case, it's not a big deal. Director Gregory Hoblit ("Primal Fear") allows that the engineering may be rigged, but it's only a game, after all -- and quite an entertaining one.
He fashions what is essentially a male ego contest: the killer is practically purring, he's so sure he's the smartest guy in the room, and the lawyer, Willy, is desperately trying to prove he's as good as he thinks he is -- despite all evidence to the contrary.
Cast Hopkins as a criminal mastermind, there's bound to be a whiff of Hannibal Lecter about. But instead of Lecter's aloof, cerebral stillness, Hopkins affects a jocular, blokey demeanor for Crawford.
Hopkins is all smirks and winks and outrageous provocations. "I've got a good dick," he murmurs to the Judge (Fiona Shaw), in reference to the private eye who has been assigned to him.
Perhaps it was acting against the live wire Ryan Gosling ("Half Nelson") that put him in such a playful mood. Their scenes together ricochet back and forth like verbal ping-pong. Beachum is an overachiever from the wrong side of the tracks (shades of Clarice Starling), constantly on the make: "I didn't work this hard to stay where I belong," he informs his boss, the D.A. (David Strathairn).
Popping on jellybeans and coffee, equipped with a lucky horseshoe ring, he's hungry and confident, but watch how his cocksure arrogance collapses along with his career prospects. What's interesting about the picture is how Beachum reacts to this predicament. His pride may be his Achilles' heel, or might still prove his saving grace.
A smart and snappy thriller that makes light work of its ethical dilemmas, "Fracture" is a little too neat and tidy to stick in the mind for long, but the Hopkins-Gosling pairing is choice, and neither comes up short.
"Fracture" is rated R and runs 112 minutes. For Entertainment Weekly's take, click here.
Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins face off in "Fracture." The actors' interplay makes the movie, says Tom Charity.