Due to the nature of this job, I see more movies about CIA turncoats, bank robberies, double-crosses, and tampered evidence than I'd ordinarily care to. And nine times out of 10, I walk away frustrated, thinking that if the director had only put an ounce of intelligence and craftsmanship into their film, they wouldn't have completely squandered the marquee name and/or decent storyline that came attached to the project. Spike Lee's Inside Man was the last masterful genre movie I saw, and while Fracture isn't quite as compelling, it does demonstrate how to turn an ordinary, John Grisham-y lawyer movie into a smart and gripping film.
It doesn't hurt that Fracture stars two of the best actors working in film today: the inimitable Anthony Hopkins (contrary to what Fracture's previews would have you believe, he's not playing Hannibal Lecter here), and Ryan Gosling, whose hotshot DA character is so far removed from his turn in Half Nelson as to make Gosling himself virtually invisible.
Fracture begins with Ted Crawford (Hopkins) calmly shooting his philandering wife in the head inside their Hollywood mansion. The star DA appointed to the case, Willy Beachum (Gosling), has one foot out the door for a high-paying job in the private sector, but takes this open-and-shut case as his last criminal case. (They have a confession and the murder weapon. How hard could it be?)
Of course, Crawford is infinitely smarter than the cocky prosecutor, whose mind is elsewhere, and Crawford went to great lengths to commit the perfect murder. This leads to a taut, suspenseful series of headtrips, mindfucks, and delicious reversals of fortune, which are par for the course in courtroom thrillers like this. The difference with Fracture is that director Gregory Hoblit and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau have also thrown atmospheric lighting, commanding performances, and taut pacing into the mix, making Fracture a surprisingly compelling addition to a genre of films that too often relies on a paint-by-numbers formula.