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MOVIE REVIEW

In 'Fracture,' shameless conviction

A movie about shamelessness should be shameless itself. And for five minutes here and there, ‘‘Fracture’’ does a passable job. In fact, Anthony Hopkins, who plays a genius structural engineer who shoots his wife and then represents himself at the trial, has rarely demonstrated less shame than he does in this preposterous courtroom thriller. Nor has Ryan Gosling. Although at about a third of Hopkins’s age, he has decades to top his oily performance as opposing counsel.

The film is neither a whodunit nor a whydunit. We know both. Hopkins’s character, Ted Crawford, pulls the trigger because his wife (Embeth Davidtz) has been having an affair. Not long after the shooting, a detective (Billy Burke) arrives at the Crawfords’ great big Southern California home, and to his shock discovers that the woman on the floor is the very one he’d been seeing. Ted goes to jail, willingly confesses, and relishes the fact that Gosling’s district attorney, Willy Beachum (what a name), will try to put him away.

Willy is the movie’s favorite kind of lawyer: hotshot. This one is about to move on to bigger things — a fancy new job at a corporate firm, where he can work alongside the icy dame (Rosamund Pike) who recruited and bedded him. But his 97 percent conviction rate and Ted’s obvious gamesmanship (that the wife’s lover took Ted’s confession nullifies Willy’s entire case) compel him to find a new angle to prosecute. Ted chooses to be his own defense attorney, claiming he knows nothing about the law. But he’s obviously better at it than Willy. Fiona Shaw plays the presiding judge, and she looks rightly confused and exasperated.

The movie seems so content to be smarter than you’re expecting that it never amounts to more than a talky tease. What’s breezy about the first half of the picture turns logy in the second. The entire film is hung on a shrugging legal plot twist that, years ago, managed to inspire a whole Ashley Judd vehicle. And since Hopkins is far too likable as a would-be cold-blooded murderer (whose wife, mind you, remains in a coma) the movie has to settle for a humane ending that also feels like a shrug.

‘‘Fracture’’ was written by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers and directed by Gregory Hoblit, whose last legal thriller, ‘‘Primal Fear,’’ was more enjoyably hokey. The new movie isn’t stupid, however. The screenplay has its share of fun, snappy dialogue, and there’s no shortage of good actors to deliver it, from Shaw and Pike, to David Strathairn, as Willy’s boss, Cliff Curtis, as a detective, and Bob Gunton, as Pike’s father.

Then there’s Gosling and Sir Anthony slinging ham at each other. They spend their scenes crossing accents. Gosling’s has a backwoods lilt that evokes possums, beer cozies, and spritzes of cheap cologne. Hopkins might be using his native Welsh brogue. Who can say, since to me he doesn’t ever sound the same way twice?

In any case, you needn’t actually see ‘‘Fracture’’ to know that if the charge is acting that winks, these two are guilty.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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