Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh

Doomed to be confused with the similarly one-word-titled INSTINCT (1999), in which super-smart jailbird Anthony Hopkins plays head games with ambitious young shrink Cuba Gooding Jr., this is a restrained, intricate psychological thriller in which super-smart jailbird Anthony Hopkins plays head games with ambitious young lawyer Ryan Gosling.

Hotshot attorney Willy Beachum (Gosling), who worked his way out of poverty to a berth in the Los Angeles district attorney's office, is about to step up to a berth at a top-of-the-line white-shoe law firm. All that's left for him to do is talk to his boss, DA Joe Lobruto (David Strathairn), and close out his remaining cases. Beachum doesn't want to take on any additional work, but is pressured into making a court appearance in an open-and-shut case: Fracture engineer Ted Crawford (Hopkins) has shot his faithless wife (Embeth Davidtz), who lies comatose in a nearby hospital. Crawford confessed not once but twice: first to responding hostage negotiator Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), and then again at the police station. And the cops have the murder weapon, which Crawford relinquished at the crime scene. And then things go terribly wrong: Crawford enters a not-guilty plea and says he wants to act as his own attorney. Both confessions are thrown out when Crawford exposes Nunally as his wife's lover, and it is learned that the gun has never been fired so it can't be the murder weapon. Suddenly the case is a real puzzler, and the arrogantly underprepared Beachum looks like a fool. His new boss, Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), tells him to hand off the case: She needs his full attention. But Beachum's pride is wounded, so he instead immerses himself in Crawford's case, feverishly trying to track down the murder weapon and endangering his bright future as the legal battle drags on and it starts looking as though he's going to lose.

The best thing about FRACTURE is the way in which it defies genre cliches and turns all Hopkins' mannerisms into assets: Crawford is a sociopathically self-centered show-off wallowing in his own cleverness, so Hopkins' post-SILENCE OF THE LAMBS posturing looks like whip-smart characterization. And the film never degenerates into the mano-a-mano showdown between the grinning psycho and the cocky but fundamentally decent lawyer that's become de rigueur in big-budget Hollywood thrillers. Some viewers will no doubt find the lack of bloody closure disappointing, but others will warm to its chilly intricacy, cleverly mirrored in Dutch artist Mark Bischoff's elegant, Rube Goldberg-like moving sculptures that decorate Crawford's home.