Ryan Gosling does it again in this smart legal thriller.

Fracture Fixed by Cast 

Ryan Gosling does it again in this smart legal thriller.

This week's generically titled studio suspense thriller, Fracture, has the good sense to begin where last week's generically titled studio suspense thriller, Perfect Stranger, ended — with the solution to that tedious riddle: Whodunit? The answer this time is Anthony Hopkins as Ted Crawford, an aeronautical engineer whose money and modernist mansion aren't enough to dissuade his much younger wife (Embeth Davidtz) from canoodling with an off-duty cop. So, with a cool composure that Hannibal Lecter would approve of, Crawford puts a bullet in her head and, following a brief standoff, surrenders to the police and confesses. It would seem to be a cinch for Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a deputy Los Angeles district attorney with a 97 percent conviction rate, a cocksure swagger and a job awaiting him at one of those tony corporate law firms where, in the words of Beachum's world-weary boss (David Strathairn), "Everyone plays squash and has middle initials."

But no sooner does Beachum deliver his opening remarks than all of his seemingly airtight evidence begins to go the way of O.J.'s bloody glove. For starters, there's Crawford's confession, which just happens to have been given in the presence of the very detective who was going under the covers with the late Mrs. Crawford. And the gun taken from Crawford's hand at the scene has never been fired. Providing his own defense with a mix of stumblebum buffoonery and canny legal savvy, Crawford sits across the courtroom from the miffed Beachum, watching each new revelation drop with the sadistic glee of a child pouring salt on a snail. When they meet in Crawford's cell, Crawford offers his young adversary a crash course in Engineering 101: Everything — and everyone — has a weak spot at which it can break, he says, and Beachum's is his lust for success.

Directed by Gregory Hoblit from a knotty script by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers, Fracture isn't a great movie, but it hums with the insidious smarts and theatrical flair that made Hoblit's debut feature, Primal Fear, a classic of its kind. Like that picture, this one takes a legal procedural that reeks of week-old Law & Order and pulls it off with unexpected zeal by offering us the spectacle of two gifted actors working at the top of their game. It's smart enough to realize that what turns a trial, fictional or otherwise, into high drama usually has less to do with the case than with the outsize personalities of its players, the carnival atmosphere of the courtroom and the macabre thrill of watching a clever defendant try to get away with murder. It's also one of the rare American films to openly address matters of class and wealth. The more it progresses, the more Fracture becomes something of a gallows comedy about the price of ambition in the big city, with the working-class Beachum a variation on the classic film-noir protagonist who finds himself paying a steep price for daring to want too much.

Fracture , which seems destined to do for low-paying public-prosecutor jobs what Top Gun did for Naval recruitment, could have been done dreary and straight. But, under Hoblit's direction, the actors tear into their roles. Hopkins, who has spent far too much of his post-Silence of the Lambs career regurgitating Hannibal the Cannibal as a dinner-theater caricature, plays Crawford the way he played Lecter the first time around: close to the vest, with touches of romantic melodrama. It's Gosling, though, who continues to astonish, and if Beachum seems an even bigger revelation than his Oscar-nominated Half Nelson turn, it's because the role as written gives him so much less to work with. He's the kind of actor who makes other actors look lazy. No moment is wasted. Nothing has been left to chance. He is Brando at the time of Streetcar or Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces, and he's one of the more remarkable happenings at the movies today.

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