As Hopkins babbles on about his early career, Gosling realizes there's no time limit for this interview.

As Hopkins babbles on about his early career, Gosling realizes there’s no time limit for this interview.

(2007) Thriller (New Line) Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Billy Burke, Cliff Curtis, Fiona Shaw, Bob Gunton, Josh Stamberg, Xander Berkeley, Joe Spano, Zoe Kazan, Judith Scott, Carlos Cervantes, Petrea Burchard, Garz Chan, Wendy Cutler, Larry Sullivan, Valerie Dillman, Sandra Prosper. Directed by Gregory Hoblit.

When it comes to the law, things are pretty much WYSIWYG. Most criminals, as police and prosecutors alike will tell you, aren’t that smart. Brilliant people tend to figure out that crime doesn’t pay, after all. However when one commits a crime driven by passion, all of that goes out the window and nothing that you see may be what it appears to be.

Ted Crawford (Hopkins) is a meticulous man. A consultant to the NTSB, he consults elaborate kinetic sculptures in his spare time. He is also a brilliant man but what he is not is a passionate man. His wife Jennifer (Davidtz) has endured a marriage that has brought her little satisfaction for years. At last, she looks for the emotional support elsewhere, in the arms of the very married Detective Flores (Curtis). Ted is not a man with an explosive temperament. When he discovers the affair, he doesn’t shout or scream or threaten. Calmly, coldly and rationally he makes his plans; when he is ready, he leaves work one afternoon, arrives home and calmly shoots his wife, but doesn’t kill her; he does, however, leave her in a coma.

Willy Beachum (Gosling) is a driven man. A prosecutor, he hates losing and has one of the most impressive conviction records in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, earning the admiration of DA Joe Lobruto (Strathairn). It also earns him a job at one of the most prestigious law firms in Southern California, which he is transitioning into. As he disperses his case load for Lobruto, he is also training for his new role with his mentor Nikki Gardner (Pike). However, there is just one case left for Beachum to resolve, one that seems to be open and shut – the Crawford shooting.

It seems to be pretty straightforward. Crawford had the gun in his hand when the LAPD arrived on the scene and confessed to the detective on duty who came into the house to survey the crime scene. Crawford has even eschewed legal defense and is defending himself. Beachum figures this trial will be over before it even starts.

However, things start to go wrong almost immediately. It turns out the detective on duty was the very man who was having an affair with Crawford’s wife, and once he got into the house and saw who the victim was, he went ballistic and assaulted Crawford. That taints the confession. Furthermore, when ballistics checks the gun, it has never been fired. Beachum finds himself caught in a devious plan, and now his career is at stake. Will he able to find a way to convict Crawford, or will the engineer get away with the perfect crime?

Perhaps Hopkins best-known role is as one of the all-time great villains of the movies, so you know he can handle the heel role, no problem. However, his Hannibal Lecter performance works against him here. While Ted Crawford is a brilliant man, he’s no Lecter and the ghost of Hannibal haunts the movie like Banquo. Gosling is one of the most exciting actors today but this character could just as easily have been served by a shirtless-era Matthew McConaughey sort, so Gosling’s talent is a little bit wasted. Strathairn on the other hand lends credibility to every movie he does, and this one is no exception.

I found Jeff and Mychael Danna’s score a little pedantic and cliché, as thriller scores go. Hoblit, a television veteran, does a credible job on the big screen, but in a large part due to the writing, leaves you with a TV movie feel. That’s not pleasant when you’re exiting a multiplex having paid ten bucks to watch the movie. Of course, it may not necessarily be a deterrent in a rental or streaming situation which is more ideal to this movie. Still, you assume the risk.

Even though you get a pervasive feeling you’ve seen it all before, Hopkins is always interesting to watch and Gosling keeps up okay. Unfortunately, the “twist” at the end is predictable to the point that anybody with any basic understanding of law – or a veteran of courtroom dramas – will call out the twist well before it arrives.

Legal thrillers, when well done, can make for some of the most compelling films of them all, but this isn’t one of those movies. It’s not that this is a bad movie; it’s just that this is a very average movie and given that you have people like Hopkins and Gosling in the cast, you would expect more. However this isn’t a bad choice for a DVD rental, particularly if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re in the mood for a thriller that you can guess the ending to.

WHY RENT THIS: Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling are two of the most compelling actors in Hollywood. Strathairn is reliable supporting actor.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: This is a “Been There Done That”-o-rama. Annoying score.
FAMILY MATTERS: The subject matter is probably a bit too adult for wee ones. There’s also a surfeit of bad language throughout.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The kinetic sculptures in Crawford’s home were created by Dutch artist Mark Bischof.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $91.4M on a $45M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon (buy/rent), Vudu (buy/rent), iTunes (buy/rent), Flixster (buy/rent), Target Ticket (buy/rent)
NEXT: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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