Actors are very weird people. I can say that; I have actor friends. But they're really a bit like hobbits: you can learn all of their ways in a month, and after a hundred years they'll still do something that just confuses the fuck out of you.
In other words, why oh why did Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling decide that it would be a fine thing to star in the movie Fracture? Obviously professional movie stars need to eat just like the rest of us. But Gosling has a history of being pretty damn choosy with his projects, and pretty damn indie. And Hopkins, okay, is mostly insane, but still...I mean, I can understand what makes All the President's Men appealing in the abstract, but I do not understand what makes an actor who can't really need the money to read a script like this one and say, "Good lord, I want to be a part of this project!"
This project, for the morbidly curious, runs a bit like this: a man somehow involved in aeronautical engineering (Hopkins) finds his wife is cheating on him, and he shoots her. He is arrested by the very cop she was sleeping with, confesses, and the case ends up in the lap of an assistant DA (Gosling) right on the eve of his departure for a sexy, high-paying job in corporate law. Gosling assumes this will be a cakewalk, Hopkins decides instead that it's time for fun fun cat 'n' mouse mind games.
I suspect there's a level at which this could have worked wonderfully (I also suspect that it's already been made, but I can't quite think of when), but Fracture is not wonderful at all. It's a thin little procedural without a trace of imagination to it. This becomes entirely unsurprising after a quick perusal of director Gregory Hoblit's CV: stints with L.A. Law and NYPD Blue,* and films like Fallen and Frequency (the man likes his f-words). What little bit of mystery there might have been is crushed under the heel of the unending scenes of Gosling and his compatriots flinging legal jargon at each other and the camera, or the even more unending scenes in which Gosling harangues the police detectives who can't find any evidence. This latter scenario is particularly unpleasant to remember, as it occurs somewhere between 5 and 30 times over the course of the film and each and every time it does so without a trace of variation.
Everything happens, and I can't stress this enough, exactly the way you expect it to. Procedurals in general are not noted for their structural innovation or narrative trickery. This particular procedural seeks to be the rarefied distillation of all procedurals, and at no moment does this stop feeling like an especially glossy and especially joyless episode of Law and Order, with Gosling playing both parts.
So what floors me about this is that not only are two top-shelf actors like Hopkins and Gosling mucking about in a script like this, but both of them give it everything they've got. This is quite undeniably the best performance that Hopkins has delivered in the current decade, both despite and because it feels a whole lot like a less evil, more snotty variation of Hannibal Lecter (old-school, of course. I don't roll that way). I should be clear: in no way is a "bad" thing that Hopkins is, effectively, coasting. Lecter was a great performance, after all, and I imagine that was what was appealing about this role: a chance to get back in that mode of terribly clever, urbane evil. And Ted Crawford (Hopkins's character) is certainly clever and urbane, and while his evil is a whole lot less mythological than cannibalism, it's still not the sort of role where you'll ever wonder if maybe he might be innocent.
For his part, Gosling is just damn good, now and always (although, he is dating Rachel McAdams, and this means that I shall have to kill him some day. But that doesn't change his abilities as an actor). He takes the deeply clichéd role of the "hot-shot who learns humility and morality," and turns it into something that's actually interesting to watch, mostly by keeping the character realistically flawed enough that we never quite get around to liking him very much. I mean that to be a compliment. His character is a prick, and Gosling has the sensible bravery to not hide that fact.
I shan't go someplace silly, like, "these are two of the best performances of the year," although they're both really goddamn good, and that's what makes Fracture so incredibly annoying. It's a completely uninteresting screenplay, insultingly so, but it's hardly a waste of film. It's got two great actors being great. So that makes it at least a little worthy of a recommendation, right?