'Fracture' intelligent cat-and-mouse thriller

Posted: April 20, 2007

In "Fracture," Anthony Hopkins plays a criminal mastermind who, in the first scene, stares contentedly at an intricate machine of his own design.

The device is one of several that adorn his modernist mansion, also replete with field paintings, Ming vases and sculpture.

No TV, though.

That's when I knew his evil-genius character was in trouble. No TV, means no Columbo, no Perry Mason. No idea that lack of humility is the fatal flaw that eventually ensnares even the most diabolically intelligent perfect-crime perp.

"Fracture" is actually an interesting wrinkle on that theme, since arrogance is the weakness that afflicts the movie's protagonist - a hotshot prosecutor named William (Ryan Gosling).

He's just accepted an offer to cash in on his 97 percent Assistant DA conviction rate with a posh job at a private firm when he catches his last case, apparently open-and-shut - a rich guy (Hopkins) has shot his wife and confessed.

There's a good scene of the two men eyeing each other for the first time at a hearing. It's a great actor's moment. They examine each other - Hopkins displays the creepy Lecterism that's by now second nature to him, Gosling the soaking-it-all-in intelligence that he uses to evaluate his adversary. The defendant's casual demeanor tips him that something's hinky, but what?

This tasty sequence is the first but not the only sign of the movie's above-average intelligence - there's some choice dialogue, much of it centered on the arc of Gosling's character, a brainy yokel who makes it in the big city by being smart and underestimated (the way Hopkins dresses him down and manipulates him is a lot like Lecter's interplay with Clarice Starling in "The Silence of the Lambs").

It's so well written and well acted you hope "Fracture" holds up all the way, but problems develop. Gregory Hoblit, who directed the atmospheric "Fallen," has given every scene the same mood, the same weight. It begins to feel flat, without dramatic shape or modulation.

Also, if you're paying attention, especially you "Columbo" fans, you'll figure out how Hopkins fools the cops, and even have time to anticipate how the writers will dramatize the "eureka" moment when Gosling figures it out, too.

Still, stacked up next to duds like "Perfect Stranger," "Fracture" seems like Hollywood state of the art. *

Produced by Charles Weinstock, directed by Gregory Hoblit, written by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers, music by Mychael Danna, distributed by New Line Cinema.

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