Film / Fracture (2007)

I killed my wife... Prove it.

Fracture is a 2007 thriller, directed by Gregory Hoblit and starring Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling.

Ted Crawford (Hopkins) is a brilliant and wealthy aeronautical engineer who discovers that his wife is having an affair. He orchestrates her murder and arranges to be arrested by the same cop whom his wife was having an affair with. The wife survives but remains in a coma, while Crawford is charged with attempted murder. When the case is presented to deputy district attorney William Beachum (Gosling), who is about to leave his job as a public prosecutor for a high-profile post at a respected legal firm, the case looks like a clear slam-and-dunk with a murder weapon and a signed confession, and the confident Beachum barely investigates the case.

However, Crawford elects to represent himself at his own trial, and soon presents evidence which reveals that the cop who arrested and interrogated Crawford was screwing his wife behind his back, making Crawford's signed confession inadmissable in court as fruit of the poisonous tree since it was obtained under duress. On top of that, the murder weapon turns out to be useless due to a clever switcheroo that Crawford performed during the arrest. Beachum sees his life crash around him due to his own hubris and a murderer walks free, as he desperately tries to find another way to put Crawford behind bars.

This film provides examples of:

  • Cellphones Are Useless: The protagonist attempts to get, and eventually receives, a court order barring the suspect's wife/victim from being removed from life support. Rather than phoning the hospital, the protagonist drives there, and by the time he arrives, the wife is dead.
  • Driven to Suicide: Detective Nunally kills himself when Crawford gets acquitted.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The very first scene shows Crawford briefly examining an X-ray of a failed aircraft part, circling a particular point and telling his colleagues that was the point of failure. When asked if he wants to wait to see if he was right, he casually says "nope" and drives off. Both his hubristic confidence and his ability to quickly identify weaknesses are key parts of his character.
  • A Fool for a Client: Ted Crawford decides to represent himself in an attempted murder trial, and he does it very effectively. He manages to get himself acquitted despite a signed confession, a murder weapon, and motive.

    The way he was able to do this was that the investigating detective was sleeping with the victim (the killer's wife) making the confession suspect when the detective's testimony of it was undermined, and the murder weapon had never been fired (he had switched it with the detective's weapon as they were identical models). As for motive, without evidence it's useless. This was helped by the fact that the prosecutor had his foot out the door as he was about to get a job at a prestigious law firm and wasn't taking the case very seriously due to the mountain of evidence. Crawford also purposely used an Obfuscating Stupidity angle to appear like an easy win to the haughty and uninterested public prosecutor.

    When the prosecutor then finds a way to try Crawford for murder, Crawford hires a defense team of 4+ lawyers. He no longer has the tricks available that got him acquitted the first time. Both times rely on Hollywood Law.
  • Foreshadowing: Early on, William tells the story of how he was prosecuting a man with connections to a high-powered law firm. When the defendant tried to bribe him with introductions to some prominent people, he accepted, causing the guy to underprepare for the case, which allowed him to win an easy conviction. This foreshadows William falling prey to the same kind of overconfidence.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Detective Nunally suggests they plant evidence to insure Crawford gets convicted when the case is going south. Beachum refuses though.
  • Gambit Roulette: The plot requires that the correct cop be called into the scene of a murder, recognize the victim as the woman he was having an affair with, and then attack her husband. Furthermore, it required that he not kill her husband, but be sufficiently angry to not notice that the husband was switching their guns.
  • Hollywood Law: Ted Crawford is on trial for the attempted murder of his wife, who'd cheated on him. Due to various ploys, he has some of the prosecution's key evidence excluded and gets acquitted. Then, to make things worse, he decides to remove his wife from life support (who's in a coma since he shot her), as he's her next-of-kin. Young prosecutor Willy Beachum gets a court order to stop him, but hospital security prevents him from entering the room, and his wife dies. Beachum then finds some new evidence, and looks up exceptions to double jeopardy with which to file a murder charge against Crawford. The movie closes with Crawford on trial again, this time with the expectation that he'll get found guilty and justice will be served. First of all: security guards likely would get in trouble for stopping a person waving a court order. Aside from that, the supposed exception to double jeopardy doesn't hold up. Attempted murder is a lesser included offence to murder, meaning it merges with the other. Thus, if you're acquitted of one, it applies to the other as well. Collateral estoppel also prevents a party from re-litigating the same facts that were decided on previously. The Volokh Conspiracy blog discusses all this here, including the fact that there was a lot more evidence against Crawford than was excluded which he could have been convicted on to begin with.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Crawford repeatedly refers to William Beachum as "Billy" to mock him as a little boy trying to play games with an older genius such as him. Beachum tries to convince Crawford that he has no problem with it, but it's clear that he does.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: As part of his scheme, Crawford initially presents himself as a layman unacquainted with courtroom procedures but who decided to represent himself in court by exercising his basic rights, presumably out of hubris. When he later pushes for an acquittal based on lack of admissible evidence by the prosecution, he reveals that he has quite a bit of legal expertise, which the annoyed judge quickly notices. You can especially see it when he uses the legal phrase "motion for judgment of acquittal", not having demonstrated any familiarity with them earlier.
  • The Perfect Crime: Getting away with murder. Almost.
  • Reverse Whodunnit: "I killed my wife... Prove it."
  • Smug Snake: The film shows a good contrast between a Smug Snake and a Magnificent Bastard (or, considering how he screws everything up at the end, a much more high-functioning Smug Snake). The former is a smarmy prosecutor who believes he has gotten a completely open-and-shut case, and consequently has not bothered to do his job properly. The latter is a murderer who believes he has made himself untouchable despite the case against him seeming to be bulletproof, and is not worried about showing how confident he is. The reason you are almost rooting for the murderer is because his arrogance comes from having planned everything very carefully, rather than smugly assuming he's going to win. The fact that he's played by Anthony Hopkins certainly helps.