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At The Movies: Ryan and Hopkins Team Up: Fracture **

Fracture is one of those head-scratcher movie disasters no one ever saw coming. While the first half lulls you into a false sense of suspense, it isn’t long before the whole thing collapses like a house of cards. The problem with this film is at its source.

Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling head up a well-performing cast; so far so good. Gosling, in particular, has so much talent he could be doing a commercial for Der Wienerschnitzel and we would watch with rapt attention. And Anthony Hopkins, doing less here than with Hannibal, maybe even phoning it in, is always a nice creature to watch on screen. The problem here is not the acting.

This script is deceptively clever. Patterned after a chess game, presumably, the two players are ill matched. One (Gosling) is a winning young prosecutor with one foot in the public service and the other in the private sector, where he’s just been handed a sweet job at a very cushy law firm. He breezes into court on the day a man (Hopkins) stands accused of murdering his wife.

Hopkins’ character is apparently such a genius that he’s figured out how to outsmart everyone while getting away with murder. We find out he’s a murderer in the first act, but we don’t know anything else about him, except that he builds intricate little machines, loved his wife very much and didn’t take kindly to her cheating on him.

Gosling’s character loses the case, and finds himself at the crossroads of a career decision, as good and evil do battle for his soul. He can walk away from this case. But that means letting a very smart man beat the system. Or he can stay and fight. It comes down to ethics. By the end of the film, he’ll have come of age and figure out who he is as a lawyer and maybe who he is as a man.

The problem with the film, and it’s a really big problem, is that many of the plot points seem to have been invented solely to serve the story; they don’t seem like they would have existed had the writer not needed to plant them there.

The major plot twist is something the audience figures out half-way through the film, yet we have to wait patiently for the characters (who are supposed to be brilliant minds) to catch up. By the time they do, it’s unsatisfying. I think even my 8-year-old daughter could figure it out, that’s how easy it is.

When the final character offers up check-mate, again, it seems like it should have been long ago figured out by the player. Beyond that, there are detectives and lab workers and judges who might have also been able to figure it out way before the leads do.

The bad thriller genre is a satisfying one for those of us who value it. Fracture is very much in keeping with that tradition. It features great actors working from a really bad script, lots of laughably bad scenes, but also manages to be entertaining throughout, in that so-bad-it’s-good way. This film, in fact, is a cut above because the actors are so good.

The best reason to endure this film is to see Gosling delivering yet another complex, layered performance. It won’t be long before Gosling is at the top of the heap. With his palpable charisma and his versatility, he’s a cross between Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman. Fresh off of his Oscar nod for Half Nelson, Gosling did well this time, but he’d be better served being a little choosier about the scripts he chooses. Either way, this reviewer is looking forward to his brilliant career.

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