Thursday, 19 April 2007

Fracture (2007)

Top civil servants deserve a pay hike to keep them in the service!

Let's get this straight. In the first 10 minutes of Fracture, you get to see Anthony Hopkins play Ted Crawford, an incredibly wealthy and talented engineer who shoots his wife in the head after she returns home from a rendezvous with a lover at a hotel. He methodically shoots more bullets into the windows but deliberately avoids hitting his gardeners, places the murder weapon in a corner of the room, and proceeds to burn his shirt and wash himself thoroughly before letting the police in to arrest him. It's an open and shut case, right? But like a Hannibal Lecter, the engineer leers at young hotshot state attorney Willie Beachum (played by Ryan Gosling), saying "Prove that I did it, Willie!" And proving it proves to be a challenge, because all the evidence that the police find are invalid due to a legal technicality (the wife's paramour is the detective who arrests Crawford, gathered the state evidence, and conducted the interrogation!), and the murder weapon found at the scene turns out to be not the murder weapon at all! That's when you get goosebumps and root for both sides, because you want to see Hopkins with a creepily genial smile, chanelling Hannibal Lector while toying with yet another brilliant investigator and lawyer, and because you want to see how the attorney races against time to solve the mystery and find more evidence to put the killer away.

So, how did Hannibal Crawford do it? I'm glad to say that like any good old school murder mystery, the clues are all there in the first 10 minutes, and that unlike some disreputable modern murder mysteries, there is no twist ending introducing completely new and unknown tangents to the story. The centrepiece of the movie, however, is not its brilliantly engineered mystery, but its focus on Ryan Gosling's public attorney (Yes, Anthony Hopkins agreed to chew up less of the scenary so that the main character of the movie would be Gosling). The poor sod may be the star lawyer with the highest conviction ratio in the state attorney-general's office, but he's still a middle class boy without the privilege of money, a middle name, and golf buddies. And like any other middle class overachiever, it eats into him: Gosling's lawyer has his eyes fixed on that private sector job with its fat salary. Will underpaid civil service talent be poached by the private law firm? But will failing to convict the killer jeapardise his ascent into the private sector?

The remarkable thing is how Fracture comes down on the civil service pay issue: Beachum may be the wunderkind, but as long as he has his mind set on benchmarking his track record to the best of the private sector and expecting a correspondingly "deserved" pay, he becomes a sort of a minor monster himself, an asshole with delusions of entitlement, a self-assured but hubristic character. I'll leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide if pecuniary-minded civil servants in real life, especially in Singapore, end up talking and behaving like Beachum. I think this movie shows that even in a meritocratic country like the United States, people expect their civil servants to act out of a sense of justice and professionalism, and that those who behave otherwise... are simply assholes who are so caught up with their self-righteous comparisons to the private sector that they end up failing to do their jobs properly.

The best thing for people to do is watch this movie - in times like this, we need to be reminded of where our priorities and morals should lie.

First published at incinemas on 19 April 2007

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