Both “Fracture” and “Primal Fear” are high-concept legal thrillers that are helmed by the same director, Gregory Hoblit. Both films also pit charismatic up-and-coming actors against venerable movie icons who have been acting longer than their young co-stars have been breathing on this planet. Lastly, both movies feature a movie ending plot twist. However, one twist will have you clapping your hands because of its beautiful artistry and the other will have you smacking your face because of its absurdity. Read further to find out which is which…unless you’re ok with smacking yourself in the face.
In Fracture, Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is a hotshot young assistant district attorney who is assigned to prosecute Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), a clever aeronautical engineer, for the murder of his wife. Through the course of the trial, Beachum lets his ego get the better of him and he almost loses the cat-and-mouse game against Crawford who– quite rightfully– thinks he has committed the perfect murder. Recovery of the murder weapon and a silly legal quirk ultimately saves the day for Beachum and brings this slow, wannabe-sophisticated movie to a close.
The Defending Champion
Richard Gere stars as fast-talking, spotlight seeking defense attorney Martin Vail in Primal Fear. Vail is hungry to defend Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) for the murder of the archbishop in a case that assures to garner him a lot of media coverage. A few conspiracies and a couple of plot twists later we find that Vail has developed a heart for Stampler and actually starts to believe that he is innocent of the murder. Unfortunately for Vail, one final plot twist at the end reveals that Stampler had been toying with him and the whole legal system all along.
Fracture feels a bit too simplistic from a plot standpoint. The story hinges on finding the murder weapon and because of the slow pacing of the movie, that’s all you find yourself concentrating on. This pulled me out of the film very early on and the only thing that kept me somewhat involved was Anthony Hopkins’ reliable Hannibal Lecter like creepiness. I wished that I had seen a bit more emotional investment from Ryan Gosling’s character, who frankly looked pale next to Hopkins’ sinister Crawford. Finally, the discovery of the missing murder weapon coupled with the bogus legal technicality was a weak payoff for a film that had a lot of potential. Primal Fear on the other hand, featured a better dance between lead and co-lead. Richard Gere played the power attorney Vail with ardor and Edward Norton kept right up with his endearing representation of the hapless Stampler. Both the characters and the plot devices in this film kept me entertained. However, going back to Fracture, it does have Anthony Hopkins, something that simply cannot be overlooked when it comes to great cinema.
Because Fracture relied too much on its main plot, I found my mind wandering. I was just anticipating the payoff, and it proved to be a weak one that left me very unsatisfied. Primal Fear had a few other things going on and didn’t rely completely on the main plot point. This allowed me to become fully involved in the film and it made the final reveal that much sweeter. Though one could argue that both final plot twists were reasonably predictable, one can’t deny the fact that the reveal in Primal Fear was simply better executed and had more substance. The final scene was so well acted by Gere and Norton that I could only clap at a job well done. Primal Fear is the clear choice. Unless, of course, you’re okay with smacking yourself in the face.