There are few things in life as exciting as the technicalities of the American legal system.
For instance, evidence. Did you know confessions aren't valid if they're threatened out of you?
Well, Anthony Hopkins does. That's but one example of his brilliance in "Fracture," another legal thriller set in that strange world where the courts are the wide-open playground of the criminally insane. Hopkins' case is handed to Ryan Gosling, his last prosecution for the city before he leaves for a private firm so powerful and cultured they even like opera. Distracted by the upper class trappings of his upcoming job, Gosling doesn't give the case a second thought: they've got the murder weapon. Hopkins has confessed to shooting his wife, who remains in an irreversible coma. He's refused counsel, instead electing to represent himself. His trial should be a formality.
Instead, it's a travesty. Hopkins feigns ignorance and befuddlement as witnesses and evidence are marshaled against him, then slays the prosecution's case with a single nasty fact: the arresting officer, who oversaw his confession, was sleeping with his wife.
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Lacking a confession, with a supposed murder weapon that turns out never to have been fired, the case falls apart. Everyone knows he shot his wife. Hell, we saw him do it. There's just no way to prove it.
That's just "Fracture's" first act. Disgraced by his botching of what should have been a slam-dunk case, Gosling is cut loose by the city and his new job. His performance as a former hotshot laid low by Hopkins' orderly cunning is understated and brooding.
It's matched well by Hopkins, whose reptilian braininess gives a dark humor to the coldness of his character. Everything around the two of them is bland as prechewed oatmeal, but when they square off, even the tangled threads of evidentiary law become kind of neat. Not "purple lightsaber, scripture-quoting hitman" cool, but at least in the same range as finding a box of Count Chocula on the shelves when you'd heard it had been discontinued.
Still, there's a hollowness at the movie's center. Hopkins' bloodless killer is disturbing and funny, but he never feels as real as he should. Its tale of frustrated justice doesn't go for more than "it sucks when the system sucks." The love interest is sufficiently hot, but her personality doesn't exist outside her polished professionalism.
For a movie about weak points, "Fracture's" got no obvious cracks in its shell. It's just missing the stuff that goes inside. Hopkins and Gosling are a blast to watch, but the world around them's no livelier than an episode of "LAPD Boring."