Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fracture

"Fracture" (Gregory Hoblit, 2007) Gregory Hoblit has had a long career shepharding quality television work as a co-executive producer/writer/director on such shows as "Hill Street Blues," and "L.A. Law." He can be counted on to lend an air of verisimilitude to his legal films (though when he strays off-court into such films as "Hart's War," he brings no real style to the proceedings--even though there was an extended trial scene in the Bruce Willis/Colin Farrell P.O.W. film). But he does have an unerring eye for talent as his "Primal Fear" was a fine showcase for Laura Linney, Andre Braugher, and especially Edward Norton, all eclipsing star Richard Gere.

The cast for "Fracture" is just as impressive with great character actors like Fiona Shaw, David Strathairn, and Bob Gunton lending strong supporting roles. But the film is a bit too "legal procedural" for its own good. Let's see what legal cliches can we trot out:
- the cocky upstart lawyer (Ryan Gosling) begging for a come-uppence: Check
- the genius (Anthony Hopkins) using the legal system for his own ends: Check
- the distracting affair with a legal superior (Rosamund Pike) that throws "upstart" off his game: Check
- the mentor (Straithairn) who warns "upstart" every step of the way, while secretly pulling for the kid because he has such "pluck:" Check
- the legal maneuvering that twists a seemingly open-and-shut court case into a series of technicalities that derail any sense of justice: Check
- the tony upscale-silvery locations that serve as contrast (and siren call) to the "upstart's" stuffy offices of wood-panels and metal desks: Check
- the red herring revealed only at the end which casts a different light on the whole proceedings: Check

Will the clich├ęs please stand while the judge enters the chambers?

Ultimately what it comes down to is an acting duel between old war-horse Hopkins, and "new turk" Gosling, and there it's no contest. Hopkins can do more leaning back in his chair and stretching his neck suggesting megalomania than any actor doing movies. Hopkins has bags of tricks he hasn't gotten to yet. Gosling, then, tries to match him by going the opposite route--doing too much so that his legal eagle looks jittery and scattered; Gosling's busy performance reminds one of the bizarre early work of Nicolas Cage--too much over-thinking the part, and trying too hard to get noticed, that one is distracted by the tic's in the foreground to notice any subtleties that might be working. By the ending of the film, Gosling settles down, but it comes off as too little (finally) coming too late.

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