Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) is an aviation/business genius, the kind of multileveled-brainy guy who builds elaborate Rube Goldberg-like perpetual-motion rigs in his spare time. He's got the zippy sports car and an attractive trophy wife, who is ... oops ... holed up at some hotel with her age-compatible lover. Crawford waits until she gets home and -- with what we imagine is his characteristic ruthless efficiency -- shoots her in the head.
Whether Crawford will get away with this crime is the central mystery of Fracture, a slick noirish legal thriller from director Gregory Hoblit. When he's hauled off by the cops, Crawford's mocking eyes are an invitation to match wits. We know better, but a hotshot young Los Angeles prosecutor doesn't.
Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is in a hurry to leave the DA's office for a plush berth in a top-shelf private firm. With one freshly tuxedo-ed leg literally out the door, the cocky Beachum can't resist snapping up one last sure win: locking up Crawford.
But Crawford has a few tricks up his sleeve; Beachum stumbles; and so begins a cat-and-mouse parry around the movie's explicitly stated theme: Everybody has a weak spot. Crawford reckons he's found Beachum's ("You're a winner"); can Beachum find Crawford's and outwit him?
This is strictly genre fare, buoyed by a standard dilemma: how to retain (or even just gain) a soul in the muck of crime and the ethically gray corridors of justice. There's not much psychological heft -- Crawford especially remains a cipher, and Beachum's ambition-or-ethics conundrum is straight from Character Development 101.
But Hoblit, a production veteran of meaty television cop and legal dramas (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law), has an obvious affection for the genre. (A cynic might say this film bears more than a passing likeness of plot and theme to his debut film, 1996's Primal Fear.) Aspects hearken back to the mid-century noirs -- the urbane villain ensconced in an architecturally daring masterpiece perched in the L.A. hills, and dramatic lighting ranging from spot-lit faces to shadows cast by Venetian blinds.
Fracture benefits from a streamlined story -- just half a dozen players and one major drama, leavened with occasional humor. Sure, it's dependent on details and coincidences highly unlikely in real life (though they're quite probable in legal thrillers). But the solution is organic and satisfying, without reaching for the outrageous, illogical twists so fashionable in contemporary thrillers.
Naturally, this is a bit of a slum for the highly capable lead actors, but that's a bonus for us. Hopkins seems like he's having a blast nibbling at the scenery, even while rendering Crawford a very scary guy; Gosling portrays Beachum with a tetchy spiritedness that keeps us rolling smoothly past plot holes. All crime should be this entertaining.
Starts Fri., April 20.