In ‘Fracture,’ Hannibal Minus the Cannibal

Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately regarding “Fracture,” a new psychological thriller pitting a criminal mastermind versus a relentless, sleuthing prosecutor: Yes, that’s Anthony Hopkins acting in a role very similar to the landmark one he had in “Silence of the Lambs.”

Call him Hannibal minus the cannibal.

In “Fracture,” which opens in area theatres on Friday, Hopkins doesn’t eat his victim – he merely shoots her, his adulterous wife, right in the head from just a few feet away and proceeds to go about his business.

That business is executing an ingenious plan to get away with the murder – we’re not giving anything away here – and in which an ambitious assistant district attorney played by Ryan Gosling falls right into his trap.

The two leads delectably match wits amid the nefarious doings – both in and out of the legal arena – turning “Fracture” into a sly, intelligent and thoroughly enjoyable suspense film that is sprinkled as liberally with humor as it is with plot twists and turns.

That Gosling and Hopkins, who is famous for turning down roles, were willing to play the parts, in fact, proved the biggest surprise for co-screenwriter Glenn Gers and producer Chuck Weinstock.

“I wrote the film knowing that he (Hopkins) would not take this part, because it was too much like, ah, the big one,” Gers explained at a preview screening sponsored by Santa Barbara International Film Festival’s Cinema Society last weekend. “But his agent said it was the best script they’d seen since Silence of the Lambs.”

Critics might suggest that “Fracture” is derivative. But like the filmmakers suggest, it’s really much more of an homage, and a pastiche, of several great films from the past, including not only “Silence of the Lambs,” but also “A Time To Kill,” “The Verdict” and “Sleuth.”

“I think of it as a variation on classic themes,” Gers admitted. “The best thing you can do with influences when you’re writing is let them cook in the back of your mind and then just focus on the truth of the people in the moment.”

Clearly Gers, who took over the script from original screenwriter Daniel Pyne, succeeded in that task. “Fracture” is immensely satisfying, replete with clever one-liners, understated zingers and dialogue exchanges so pinpoint sharp it’s a wonder script handlers didn’t cut themselves. Hopkins, Gosling and the entire cast – which includes recent Oscar-nominee David Strathairn as the head of the DA office – turn in sharply honed yet breezy performances that keep you glued to the story, and the attention to detail in every scene is remarkable.

When the filmmakers reveal the two final twists you’ll kick yourself for not figuring them out beforehand, but that’s because you’ve been misdirected so expertly. Sure the plot is far-fetched, and clearly not drawn from everyday life, but it sure is a lot of fun, and it will stay with you for a long time.

Movie Extras

Speaking of the Cinema Society, the arm of the film festival that throughout the year presents previews nearly always accompanied by an important filmmaker, is once again accepting new members for a limited time. Not only do you get a chance to see movies long before everybody else, you can the insider’s viewpoint into how they were made.

Last year serves as a case in point: the two main actors who showed up to promote their films – Helen Mirren of “The Queen” and Forest Whitaker of “Last King of Scotland”– both walked away with Oscars last February, an accolade also awarded to Graham King, one of the few producers who previewed a new film, Best Picture winner “The Departed.” And at least five other nominees brought their pictures to the group, too. Already booked for May 1: “Gracie,” with “Inconvenient Truth” Oscar winner Davis Guggenheim and his wife and star, Elisabeth Shue.

The prices of membership keeps going up, starting out at $350 for a single regular membership and topping out at $1,500 for two premiere cards, which afford premium seating and the chance to bring guests for free. (A new “lite” membership at $150 covers only one selected screening per month, likely at the Lobero.) But how can you put a price on hobnobbing with the filmmakers before anybody else even sees the movie?

The new season starts June 1. Call 963-0023 for info.