Dramatic thriller Fracture has a taut script and an attractive look, but what really elevates it above the genre norm are tasty performances from Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling as, respectively, a clever murderer and the cocky young attorney assigned to put him behind bars. The stars' enjoyable double act should ensure at least a solid mid-level theatrical gross for the New Line/Castle Rock production and a strong showing in ancillary markets.
New Line opens the film wide in North America next weekend, in the middle of a crowd of genre releases all hoping to make a mark before the arrival of the first summer blockbusters. With Hopkins' star power having diminished recently, standing out may not be easy, but the recognition Gosling got last awards season for Half Nelson could add some younger moviegoers to the core audience of older thriller fans.
Entertainment Film Distributors gives Fracture a day-and-date launch in the UK, and several more of New Line's major-territory distribution partners will release the film in May.
Standing out internationally among the early summer blockbusters will be even tougher, though Hopkins' presence - which helped drive all three Hannibal Lecter films to bigger international than domestic grosses - may count for more outside the US.
Hopkins' Ted Crawford is a wealthy engineer who specialises in 'fracture mechanics' but who cracks himself when he discovers his wife (Davidtz) is having an affair with a younger man. After shooting her at point blank range, Crawford apparently confesses to the first policeman on the scene.
Gosling's Willy Beachum is a hot shot assistant district attorney who is about to move on to a high-paying job in corporate law. Agreeing to handle what he thinks will be one last easy case, Willy gets drawn into a battle of wits that makes him question his abilities and ethics.
Working from a script by Daniel Pyne (The Sum Of All Fears) and Glenn Gers (The Accountant), thriller specialist Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear) skillfully steers the film through a suspenseful first hour-plus that keeps the audience guessing about Crawford's insouciance and Willy's motivation.
The third act, however, resorts to some less credible legal twists and sacrifices some of the psychological intensity.
The film is at its best when Hopkins and Gosling are on screen. Hopkins may not be stretched by his role but it's still a lot of fun to watch him hint at the machinations in Crawford's mind with just the slightest gesture or change of expression. Gosling, meanwhile, gives Willy just the right balance of charm and arrogance.
The stars' joint scenes are relatively few, but they include some nicely creepy - and quite a few very funny - moments that recall, albeit with a lighter tone, the sparring between Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling in The Silence Of The Lambs.
Beside the star turns there are also enjoyable performances from British actor Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice), as Willy's new boss and love interest, and David Strathairn (Good Night, And Good Luck), as his old boss the Los Angeles District Attorney.
Director of photography Kramer Morgenthau (The Man From Elysian Fields) adds to the package by giving the film a tasteful neo-noir look and making good use of Los Angeles locations including Frank Gehry's photogenic new music centre Disney Hall.
New Line Cinema