How does a talented, critically celebrated actor follow-up an Oscar nomination for a low-budget indie? If you’re Ryan Gosling, you play Clarice Starling to Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lector—or, at least, a lawyer engaged in a mano-a-mano legal tussle with a suspected wife-killer—in Fracture. Gregory Hoblit’s twisty investigative mystery/courtroom drama is designed like the elaborate, circuitous architectural contraptions, full of metal gears and railways along which translucent balls glide, made by Ted Crawford (Hopkins), a cunning, wealthy fellow who responds to his wife’s (Embeth Davidtz) affair by shooting her in the head and then waiting for her cop lover (Billy Burke) to arrive and arrest him. Seems like a slam-dunk case for assistant district attorney Willy Beachum (Gosling), a cocky hotshot who’s on his way out of public service and into lucrative private practice—and the accompanying sex it affords.
But everything, of course, isn’t as open-and-shut as it initially appears. An early, suave camera twirl foreshadows the topsy-turvy surprises to come and also marks the last time that Hoblit doesn’t overtly mimic the glossy visual tropes of likeminded ‘80s films. Glittering city rooftops, shiny surfaces, speedy sports cars, and sexy people in swank clothes are Fracture‘s primary stock and trade and, at first, give the bombshell-laced action a pleasurable cheesiness. For instance, Gosling showers and does pull-ups in sunrise shadows, and Hopkins, after recounting how his childhood experiences examining chicken eggs proved that he could detect flaws in anything, goads the arrogant prosecuting attorney by sending him a broken eggshell.
Implausible, overblown, and increasingly ridiculous, this cat-and-mouse yarn begins intriguingly but then boxes itself into a corner from which it can’t captivatingly extricate itself, falling back on improbable and predictable developments that Hopkins’s urbane, eye-twinkling menace can’t make up for. His younger adversary, meanwhile, affects a self-consciously muted Southern drawl that skillfully encapsulates Beachum’s attempts to ingratiate himself into the metropolitan upper-crust. Though in the pauses before his responses to Ted’s taunts, conveying a mixture of exasperation, anger, and impressed amusement, he also mirrors the audience’s reactions to this prototypically sleek and silly Hollywood thriller.