Technically, the murder attempt in Fracture counts as a crime of passion: Man catches wife with another fellow, man shoots wife in the head. But since the man in question is played by Anthony Hopkins, whose body temperature runs several degrees cooler than the average bloke's, it's less a crime of passion than an intellectual exercise, something to pass the time. In terms of plotting and execution, Fracture could hardly be more generic; it's basically a high-toned version of a run-of-the-mill CBS procedural. Yet Hopkins' arrogance, which was the essence of his signature performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs, turns the film into delicious comedy. Before long, the notion of finding justice for the deceased is eclipsed by cat-and-mouse gamesmanship, as an unblinking Hopkins serves up the case as a monument to his own superiority.
When Ryan Gosling, a hotshot young prosecutor with a 97 percent conviction rate, gets assigned to Hopkins' hearing, he almost seems put out by what appears to be an open-and-shut case. Though the authorities don't have the murder weapon, they have a signed confession from Hopkins, and a detective was present on the scene when Hopkins described quite plainly what he'd done. It comes as a surprise to Gosling, then, that Hopkins enters an innocent plea and insists on defending himself. Once the case gets to trial, Hopkins doodles idly in his notebook until he gets the chance to play his trump card: The detective is the man who was sleeping with Hopkins' wife, and the confession was therefore coerced. In lieu of any physical evidence, the court would have to dismiss the case on technicalities.
Oh, those damned technicalities! Add Fracture to the long list of courtroom thrillers that decry the crumbling American justice system, in this case for demanding that a little evidence be presented alongside hearsay and conjecture. There are serious flaws in the film's design—most notably, Hopkins' scheme rests entirely on the assumption that his wife's lover would coincidentally be the man assigned to hear his confession—but the actors do their best to hold it together. Not since Lecter has a role been this well suited to Hopkins, whose intelligence and pristine formality as an actor often make him seem alien—or worse, an incorrigible ham. Gosling is equally good in the less showy role of a righteous prosecutor, investing a stock part with as much droll humor and charisma as he can muster. Whenever he and Hopkins go toe-to-toe, they elevate this disposable piece of airplane fluff into a formidable battle of wits.