Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fracture -- arrogance, weakness and winning

Director: Gregory Hoblit, 2007. (R)

Winners. We love winners. We rarely remember those in second place. Quick: who lost the last Super Bowl? (Come to think of it, who won the last Super Bowl?) In America, maybe the world over, we want to be winners. We don't want to be losers. Winning is one of the themes of Fracture, the intriguing court-room drama from the director of another court-room movie, Primal Fear.

Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) is a killer. He's also a wealthy, brilliant engineer married to a beautiful younger woman, Jennifer (Embeth Davidz, Fallen, also directed by Hoblit). But he knows that Jennifer is having an affair with a cop, and strategizes a way to take both out with one bullet. He ruthlessly kills her at point-blank range in their mansion, knowing that eye witnesses put him at the crime scene. When the cops arrive, he confesses verbally to the murder and then puts it in a signed statement. Open and shut case.

Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling, Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl) is the District Attorney handed the case on a platter. The catch: he has his bags packed and he's mentally checking out. This hotshot lawyer has created a name for himself as a winner with a 97% conviction rate, and is on his way to a new job at a prestigious civil law firm. He is trading in his civic responsibilities for a lucrative salary.

When Willy meets Ted in the court-room at the arraignment, Ted waives his right to a lawyer and elects to defend himself and then pushes for a swift trial. Little does Willy know, Ted has masterminded the whole thing like clockwork. As in the modern ball-bearing motion-creations he makes, he has steered a path for his trial that only he knows.

What follows is a thoroughly entertaining battle of wits between two very arrogant men. Going head-to-head, Hopkins and Gosling bring their A games to this film, and play off each perfectly. The script, too, is strong, keeping us wondering until almost the very last scene.

Both main characters are obscenely arrogant. Brilliance can lead to an over-inflated sense of ego. That is clear here. Who will master who? Important in the film, in life arrogance is a character flaw. The Bible has much to say about arrogance, haughtiness and pride. It is said of God, "You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty" (Psa. 18:27). And, "whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure" (Psa. 101:5). The writer of Proverbs says, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18). In contrast, we are pointed toward the opposite of arrogance: "Seek righteousness, seek humility" (Zeph. 2:3). This is not a false humility (Col. 2:18), but one in which "in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3).

In a jail-house interaction, Ted raises his arrogance over Willy's by telling him a story of his childhood, from which the movie derives its title. He worked in his grandfather's egg farm .
I used to candle eggs at his farm. Do you know what that is? You hold an egg up to the light of a candle and you look for imperfections. The first time I did it he told me to put all the eggs that were cracked or flawed into a bucket for the bakery. And he came back an hour later, and there were 300 eggs in the bakery bucket. He asked me what the hell I was doing. I found a flaw in every single one of them - you know, thin places in the shell; fine, hairline cracks. You look closely enough, you'll find that everything has a weak spot where it can break, sooner or later.
When Willy wonders if Ted has found his weakness, Ted replies, "I've already found yours. . . . You're a winner, Willy." Here is the theme of winning.

Willy's weakness is he will sacrifice everything to win. Nothing will stop him. And he goes at it 100%, even putting his relationships at risk. When we react like Willy, willing to win at any cost, we lose sight of the bigger picture. We might win the battle but lose the war. And the casualties that mount up may include loved ones that should take priority over the goal at hand. Winning is not everything. Sometimes it is not worth it. Sometimes, we need to be losers . . . so we can be winners.

Ted is right on one point. We all have weaknesses. We all are ready to fracture if the weakness is pressed. What is yours? You probably know what it is, and try to hide it, so no one can find it and exploit it. The reality is, we can never be perfect. We can acknowledge our weaknesses before our God and be like the apostle Paul. He had a weakness, and he prayed to God to remove it from him. But the Lord did not. Instead he said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me" (2 Cor. 12:9). We can let God's grace shine through our weaknesses, so that we might say with Paul, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13).

As the climax to the case approaches, Willy's character flaw causes him to grow, arcing from an over-confident cocky lawyer to a justice-seeking crusader. But as time runs out, Willy faces a choice: he can cross an ethical line and almost guarantee victory; or he can be honest and true and let the chips (or cracked egg shell pieces) fall where they may.

Which brings up the final theme: what will we do to win? Are we willing to not only sacrifice our loved ones and perhaps future opportunities but also to cross the line and cheat? Does our desire for victory trump our sense of ethics, of what is right and wrong? Such a victory can only come at a high price: the fracturing of our character. Is it worth it? I think not.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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