Eleven years ago, Gregory Hoblit made a spry, nimble thriller called Primal Fear, which launched Edward Norton’s career as a stuttering altar-boy attempting to conceal the psycho within from Richard Gere’s flash defence attorney. Hoblit’s new, handsomely-shot courtroom mystery shares parallels to Fear with its twisty, cat-and-mouse face-off between veteran star and young upstart. This time around the roles are switched, with Ryan Gosling’s cocky assistant DA on the right side of the law, pitting wits against Anthony Hopkins’ creepy “fracture mechanics” engineer (he solves plane crashes), who’s shot his wife point-blank in the head (Embeth Davidtz, with Hollywood’s easiest acting gig: lying in hospital in a coma).
Gosling even looks a bit like Norton, although the Half Nelson star has already notched up awards and multiplex fans in his brief career. No cliché is omitted from his bolshie hotshot Willy Beachum (97 per cent conviction rate; drives a retro BMW; lucrative corporate-law gig waiting after he wraps this last case), and Gosling plays Fracture for the bank-balance-boosting genre romp it is, while still projecting the fine-tuned screen charisma that’s propelling him swiftly up the A-list.
As for Hopkins, he appears to be having way more fun than he should with slick, generic fodder like this (maybe it’s just us, but shouldn’t he have better things to do in his dotage?). Bruckheimer would have been proud of Fracture’s priceless opening gambit though, in which Hopkins’ Ted Crawford strides through an aircraft hangar, hands his latest, genius solution to the men scratching their chins by some jumbo-jet-wreckage, then hops in his Porsche – parked 10ft away – to zoom off and kill his wife. You can’t help but admire how shamelessly – and enjoyably – he cranks up the ham, whether taunting Gosling with kooky menace (shades of Lecter and Starling) or yanking the legal rug out from under his smug adversary.
For the first hour or so, you get what you expect from this ’80s throwback: taut script, accomplished camerawork, lush set dressing and atmosphere (all polished surfaces and hazy sunset colours) and sexy co-stars (former Bond girl Rosamund Pike as Gosling’s new boss). With some fairly blunt signposting, though, chances are you’ll figure out the key bombshell way before Willy does – and even if you don’t, the second half still goes soggy and soft-boiled, exposing the fractures and flaws in its elaborate circuitry. But until that point, it’s game-on for Gosling and Hopkins’ mesmerising double act.
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Hopkins hams and Goisling cruises in a sleek, pleasurably-daft suspense thriller that doesn't quite manage to sustain its best laid plans.