Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fracture

Recently my good friend Peter Phillips asked me to review Fracture, a film by Gregory Hoblit starring Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins. 

This film is essentially about one thing: a fracture. A fracture as defined by this film is the ultimately devastating weak spot in anything. And I think in response to this idea the film also presents the strength of the American law system. 

These two ideas are an important part of our society. Societies can build and build around an idea that we deem to be perfect and yet somehow come crashing done because not enough thought was put into structuring the society so that there are ways of correcting injustice or malpractice. What is so interesting about this film is that while warning us of this folly it actually winds up praising our legal system. I believe because our legal system was created by men who were concerned about this very problem. We cannot be arrogant enough to believe our ideas are perfect. There is always a flaw somewhere that can send the whole system crashing done. But the founding fathers created a system where justice can prevail but it is because of its complicated and sometimes difficult nature that it can work so well. If it were overaly speedy and did not desire to protect those being accused of crimes it would collapse. If it were devoid of human judgement it would collapse. But it combines many things in order to make itself strong, hopefully in order to fight off fractures.

This film was beautiful and profound in its use of pure cinema. The characterization of the villain was told entirely through visual clues. Hopkins portrays a highly intelligent man who works for an airplane manufacturer. I believe his job is actually to figure out what goes wrong when a plane crashes. A job which he is very competent at. This is displayed very quickly at the beginning of the film. But then immediately after that we see him go into another world. He has discovered that his wife is having an affair and he goes to the hotel where the "lovers" do their dirty deeds. Then he goes home. He waits for his wife. When she comes home he shoots her in the head. This is the essential plot piece upon which everything else rides upon and it is specifically this plot device that was the main criticism of the film. What happens after Hopkins shoots his wife is a little hard to believe. The bullet (a .45 caliber) lodges in her skull. If they remove the bullet she will in fact die, but by leaving it there she may forever remain in a coma. But despite the obvious difficulty of believing that a bullet as large as a .45 would not blow her head off but instead create a wonderfully delicate plot there really is nothing wrong with this film.

But even this is not really a flaw. Great movies often force us to suspend disbelief. Casablanca is a great example of this. The entire plot of that great film is based upon something that never even existed, one of the most notorious macguffins in film history: the letters of transit. These did not exist in French Morocco as Ebert firmly states in his DVD audio commentary. The very idea of papers that could get you out of the country, no questions asked, no matter who you were is a little hard to buy. But nobody cares! We're so distracted by how much we care about the people involved and the outcome of the story. Another problem with Casablanca is that the Nazis don't simply grab Victor, he is a criminal by their standards. The Vichy goverment in france was an obvious Puppet dictatorship. The Nazis did whatever they wanted in French Morocco. These aren't even really historical inaccuracies, they just seem absurd when you actually think about them. But it is in fact these phony rules that give Casablanca its great story. The same is true of Fracture.

Everything about this film was quality, but my favorite thing was the way in which we are told who the villain is. Hopkins' character is not really discussed in the film. When it is he is dismissed as crazy. But we know exactly who he is by the end of the film. He is a designer. Or a Schemer if you will. Like The Dark Knight's Joker (despite his statements to the contrary). He enjoys building things. He builds these complex machines for which I don't even know the name. They are complicated contraptions which transport glass marbles around steel frames. He builds them in all sorts of ways and shapes and sizes. Keep this in mind for just a moment.

When Hopkins' case finally goes to court he decides to represent himself. An explanation for why is never given but when the case finally implodes leaving Gosling with a terrible mess we think we understand. The entire murder was a sort of set up. Hopkins orchestrated everything beautifully so that he could escape conviction. And that is the point of the machines he builds. He even tells Gosling later that his plan was beautiful. Terribly beautiful. Actually more like clever. Beauty is a concept we attribute to things that are not horrible in their basic nature. But to Hopkins it is beautiful. During the actual hearing in court his character is sketching more plans for more of his beloved contraptions. This is how his mind works. He designs and plans and schemes. And he enjoys it as a good unto itself. The shear pleasure of designing a complex mechanism and watching it go. 

Gosling's character is the main character. But he is fairly simple. A man who wants money but in the end is driven more by his conscience then anything else. Both of the actors' portrayals are delicate and precise. Giving the exact balance needed to make what could have easily been cliches into real people. 

I think that this is a great film. It was paced perfectly. Steady and thoughtful. Never letting us miss the important points. And the entire film culminates in one great moment, pulled off skillfully by both Gosling and Hopkins. I can't recommend this film more highly.


3 comments:

  1. Good review Aaron! I told you it was a great movie. Definitely the kind of movie you can watch over and over.

    "Life gives us these little treats sometimes."

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  2. haha, nice quotage. I've seen it three times now, cause I got Sarah to watch it when she came home last night.

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  3. Hopkins, "Life gives us these little treats sometimes."

    Gosling smiles at Hopkins as if he knows his whole world is about to collapse, "I know what you mean......, because we've got the bullet... we were able to remove it from your wife's head."

    Then he drops the bomb! That was one of two favorite moments for me.

    The second was when Gosling was talking to the detective (who had an affair with Hopkins' wife) right after Hopkins smokes them both in the court room.

    The detective, "I warned you he was there was something not right with him."

    Gosling, "You warned me that he was smart; what you didn't warn me... was that you were stupid."

    Classic!

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