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The film begins with a perpetual motion machine over the credits, presumably invented by Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), a man who's gotten very rich as some kind of aeronautical engineer and is now reliving his role as a kind of über-mensch, a la "The Silence of the Lambs," because we see him checking out his wife's afternoon assignation, then shooting her in the head, then confessing to it, and then - wait! He's going to get away with it!
And so he does, in a marvelous cat-and-mouse variation on a well-worn theme, this time with the mouse being Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a Los Angeles County District Attorney, who certainly knows enough, though apparently not quite enough, about wealthy men in L.A. who shoot their wives and walk away from it, but who in any case is going to leave the D.A.'s office for a much better (and better paid) position with a private law firm. But he takes on this case because, well, he hasn't quite read the script about how the wealthy can survive a signed confession and walk away free. With a smirk on his lips and a smile that says this is a slam-dunk, this is as much a lesson in hubris as it is in courtroom control.
It's a marvelous confrontation, and with the old pro Hopkins as the wonderfully tricky murderer, and the deceptively shallow Ryan Gosling as his victim, the trick is of course to follow the Willy character as he finds a way to break the impenetrable wall that Ted has built up around himself. It's a classic case, though if you've any law in you, by osmosis or TV (and who doesn't), you'll guess the outcome before the denouement. The important thing is that it's the chase and not the denouement that's important, and with Hopkins as the culprit it's particularly good.
There's a whole subplot involving the new legal firm that Willy is likely to go to, embodied by his new boss(Rosamund Pike), whom of course he sleeps with, that is so transparent we might as well forget it. And Willy's boss, the D.A., (David Strathairn) is so full of platitudes it's no wonder so many Los Angelinos get away with murder. But the plot is the thing, and director Gregory Hoblit, who did lots of Law & Order and knows what he's doing, doesn't let us get away from it for too long. "Fracture" has has some marvelous shots of L.A. mansions, plus some of Willy's low-rent home that sets off just why Willy wants to get out and into real money. And the lesson for Willy, as he tries to make lemonade out of lemon, is that he can. It's lovely to watch him work.
4/20/07 <! new pasted review ends on line above>