- Vishaal Desai
'Fracture' - An Analysis
Directed by - Gregory Hoblit
Written by - Daniel Pyne & Glen Gers
WARNING: There are SPOILERS ahead!
Billionaire Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), a talented structural engineer discovers that his wife Jennifer (Embeth Davidtz) is having an affair with police detective Robert Nunally (Billy Burke). He subsequently shoots her in cold blood and then confesses on the scene to none other than Nunally himself.
Subsequently, hotshot lawyer Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is assigned to prosecute Crawford in what appears to be an open and shut case. However, at his arraignment, Crawford chooses to represent himself and pleads not guilty to attempted murder. The case is further complicated when Crawford’s gun is inadmissible as evidence, on account of never having been fired. What therefore seems like a straightforward case turns into something more elaborately planned than either Beachum or the police department could have imagined.
As the plot unravels, Beachum invariably finds the case slipping out of his hands. He is unable to provide any evidence to convict Crawford; most notably he is unable to uncover the murder weapon. Crawford is therefore eventually acquitted, following which, a depressed Nunally commits suicide. Crawford subsequently pulls the plug on his wife, who has thus far been in a coma.
His career now in tatters, Beachum, out of sheer luck, discovers that Crawford had switched guns with Nunally prior to shooting his wife. With the guns being identical in appearance, nobody had noticed the difference and Crawford had subsequently switched the guns back before being arrested by Nunally. The weapon was therefore in the possession of an unwitting Nunally during the entire trial. With this evidence in hand, Beachum successfully brings Crawford back to trial; this time on the charge of murder.
Fracture provides us with an intriguing and refreshing narrative. Although the plot isn’t particularly original, it is unique in that the audience is already aware of the killer’s identity. As a result, the film avoids the oft-used cliché of a surprise twist.
The story largely relies on its ability to engage the audience in Crawford’s diabolical plot by letting the onion-like layers gradually unravel, and for the most part, it is successful in this aspect. However, having set up a gripping narrative, the film is unable to provide a satisfactory pay-off at the climax. In addition, a less than adequate B-Story involving Beachum’s transition from the DA’s office to a big law firm and his subsequent romance with his future boss Nikki Gardener (Rosamund Pike) dilutes the intensity provided by main thread of the film as it two story threads have no significant impact on each other.
Although Beachum is the protagonist of the story, there is no doubt that ‘Fracture’s’ most interesting character is Ted Crawford. His actions at every step draw our interest and serve to intrigue us in the subtleties of his character – the cold-heartedness with which he shoots his wife; the manner in which he subsequently treats the crime scene. His every action indicates intelligence and manipulation that leave everyone completely helpless and baffled.
The writers have done a very good job to balance the audience’s reactions towards Crawford and the film succeeds, at least partially, in aligning our sympathies towards him. One can, to a certain level, understand his anger towards his wife’s infidelity and her subsequent cold demeanor towards him following his confrontation with her. Yet, one is left with a feeling of distaste towards Crawford’s nonchalant behaviour. Hopkins owns the screen with a chilling performance that has ostentatious echoes of Hannibal Lecter, but is nonetheless solid in its own right.
For all the effort that seems to have gone into creating the character of Ted Crawford, the writers appear to have neglected the remaining characters. Every other character, including Beachum, seem to simply go through the motions in relation to Crawford’s actions and as such have no real depth.
While, the character of Detective Flores (Cliff Curtis) for example, simply serves the purpose of a plot device to help Beachum in his investigation, Nikki Gardner is a completely unnecessary character. While this is no reflection on Pike’s performance, the character itself is uninteresting. She neither has any effect on the narrative nor does she seem to influence any development in Beachum’s character arc. On the other hand, the character of Joe Lobruto (David Strathairn), the District Attorney (and Beachum’s erstwhile boss), while not integral to the plot, does play some part in Beachum’s character arc, in some ways representing the role of a mentor.
The only other character besides Crawford and Beachum to play a major role in the narrative is Detective Robert Nunally. The detective plays a unique role in the narrative flow, whereby he is both an instigator for Crawford’s plan as well as a pawn within it. In some ways, Nunally is perhaps the most important character in the film, as Crawford’s plan would not work without his unwitting participation and as such, he is a very interesting character with a lot of potential. However, the writers do not seem to have given him any depth whatsoever. He is essentially a tool to facilitate the narrative, making him rather one-tracked.
Now, the major character issues come from Willy Beachum. As a protagonist, Beachum is unremarkable and unimpressive. Though his prowess as a prosecuting Lawyer are mentioned more than once during the course of the film (he has a 97% conviction rate), we are never really convinced of this fact. This is largely due to the fact that Beachum and Crawford are never evenly matched in terms of intelligence. If the writers have intended to portray it as a battle of wits, it is woefully one sided in Crawford’s favour. Beachum’s characteristics are uneven, as his actions are contradictory to the background set up for him because despite his stated reputation, he behaves irresponsibly.
Additionally, his subplot, which involves his transition into a famed law firm, is drab at best. The prospect of this transition initially distracts Beachum, resulting in him treating the case nonchalantly. The subplot appears to have thus been written solely with the intention to justify his initial irresponsible behaviour.
Though Gosling’s performance is adequate enough on the whole, Willy Beachum is an extremely generic character and poorly written in comparison to Crawford.
‘Fracture’ gives us a narrative that tips the scale in favour of the antagonist in such a convincing manner that we seem to be invariably headed towards a climax that would see the said antagonist emerging victorious. Although there are several films that have used similar narrative arcs, ‘Fracture’ gives us an intriguing combination of a character (Ted Crawford) and plot that gel together so well, that one almost wants to see the antagonist win.
However, the film falls flat in its final moments. The climax unfortunately follows the well-trodden path, whereby the protagonist discovers a way to outsmart the villain and ‘win the day’. In this instance, Beachum discovers the elusive murder weapon and is subsequently able to pin it on Crawford. This sudden change in direction that the narrative takes is both sloppy and ridiculous. It seems as if the writers suddenly decided to switch sides at the last hurdle.
Let us make it clear that it is not Beachum’s discovery that is the problem, rather the manner in which he is able to so easily dig himself out of the hole as a result. It feels like the equivalent of winning the derby only to later find that the horse you betted on is disqualified on a technicality. The resolution is therefore disappointing, as Beachum seems to win on a technicality rather than really earning the victory in our eyes.
Now this climax is not only unsatisfactory, but also has a gaping plot hole. When Beachum finally uncovers the elusive murder weapon following Crawford’s acquittal and discovers that Crawford switched guns prior to shooting his wife with Nunally’s gun, he subsequently recovers a matching bullet from Mrs. Crawford’s head and claims this to be enough evidence to take Crawford back to trial. However, since the gun is eventually found in Nunally’s possession, bearing only his fingerprints, it cannot possibly be traced back to Crawford. Therefore, the fact that Beachum is able to use this evidence to convict Crawford does not really seem plausible and appears to simply be an attempt to neatly tie up the story in favour of the protagonist.
Overall, despite the flaws and the unsatisfactory ending, the film still provides enough to chew on from an intellectual point of view. The script is intelligent for the most part and Crawford’s character is able to hold the film up well enough to make it worth a watch.
Analysis by - Janit Mahadevia & Vishaal Desai