Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Satisfying Crime Thriller

I just finished watching "Fracture" with Anthony Hopkins, who is so famous he has his own stack of answers in Trivial Pursuit, and Ryan Gosling, who is apparently a hot youngish actor *whom I have never seen in anything.*

But my relative culture illiteracy is not the point. My point is that watching such stuff can no longer be pure escapism for me. Because I'll be teaching an arts reviewing course in the spring, I must nudge my mind out of neutral when I see, hear, taste or fondle anything that fits however loosely into the kingdom of art to which one might apply one's analytic faculties.

I can't think of much that might not be presented for critical scrutiny in this age of the triumph of popular culture. I am like Homeland Security during the eternal campaign of a Republican administration, forever on yellow alert.

Anyway, thinking about how one might review this movie, I conclude the genre approach might bear fruit (ripe fruit just on the edge of corruption and thus to be consumed quickly). It's an old plot, very nearly a meta narrative, the tale of the arrogant man of great brilliance who commits a perfect crime and who is tripped up by his own miscalculations -- and rising decency on the part of his antagonist, for whom the conflict is a kind of redemption.

Such crimes in such stories require us at the get go to assume that what the genius killer concludes might happen when he sets his plan in motion *must* in fact happen. Evil joins to inevitability. The viewer is complicit, of course. That's the convention on which such tales are built. We have been trained by previous exposure to the genre. And we also understand the underlying psychological reward. We'd love to think the world was that predictable and, indeed, our insatiable appetite for conspiracy theories suggest that such narratives comfort us as much as they distress.

So we enjoy such entertainments even though afterwards we indulge in the second pleasure such pieces grant, that is, pointing out the holes in the plot, picking the story apart.

Now, one reason I liked this particular movie is that the killer's mechanism -- and such stories are always mechanical, clever, examples of craft, of ingenuity -- though implausible, was plausible enough, particularly if one recalls all the examples of the genre one has seen, so many of which are so sloppily done we give up on them and become resentful. (May I recall Michael Caine in Brian de Palma's "Dressed to Kill.")

Spoiler alert. Spoiler alert.

In this movie, the killer shoots his adulterous wife with a gun (we are told this; the movie plays fair) he's bought a month before. He bought the gun because it's identical to the regulation firearm owned by her police lover, who is a hostage negotiator. He does the killing because he knows the lover is on duty and will be the first man into his home, which the lover does not recognize as that of the women with whom he is having an affair because, it is established, she has not told him her name.

The killer is confident the cop/hostage negotiator will agree to lay down his gun to gain entrance to the house if the killer lays his down. The killer is also confident that when the cop sees that his lover is lying there grievously wounded he will ignore his gun and thus the killer can switch guns and the cop will carry away the murder weapon, after having attacked the killer, which is also part of the scheme to get his confession disallowed.

Damn, that's clever. And not *immediately* impossible, at least not in the alternative universe in which such stories are set and which, in fact, we so much enjoy visiting because it is not subject to the laws of reality, which haven't done us any favors recently, have they?

Meanwhile, Anthony Hopkins expressions twitch and flicker, and, wow, he looks like a mad genius who might just pull it off in our own universe. He's nuts but he's competent. And that's a comfort in these last days of the Bush administration, so heavy on the mad and so light on the genius.
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Glo said...

Totally agree. Great performances and clever.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

The Glo know!