Sometimes when you accept a free pass, you see something you would otherwise skip. Such was the case tonight when I saw "Fracture." This Hollywood-based procedural starts with Anthony Hopkins ("Hannibal" and "Hearts in Atlantis") shooting his adulterous wife before our very eyes. We have already been treated to snippets of her and her lover, so we fully understand his motivation as he prepares for and then commits the crime. When the police come he readily admits his guilt which he later repeats while being booked at the police station.

One little problem, the man with whom she was having the affair, is the police detective who is dispatched when the 911 call is received. He is shocked, horrified and immediately starts CPR. When the EMTs arrive, they find a pulse, so she is taken to intensive care where she remains in a coma.

Ryan Gosling ("Half Nelson" and "The Notebook") is a cocky public prosecutor who is leaving his county job and moving to a high profile law firm where his girlfriend and colleague, Rosamund Pike ("Pride and Prejudice" - 2005 and "Love in a Cold Climate") has paved the way. His current boss, David Strathairn ("Good Night & Good Luck" and "River Wild") understands the conviction is a lock and expects Gosling to leave public service with yet another highly laudable conviction to his credit.

No one can anticipate, however, how cleverly Hopkins' character has contrived his crime. You watch as, step by step, Gosling is outwitted at every turn. Hopkins serves as his own defense counsel and despite the judge's many admonitions he doesn't seem to be even trying. The judge is played by Fiona Shaw ("Persuasion" and "Harry Potter") and she is indeed perplexed at the defendant's amateurish ploys. When Hopkins is acquitted of attempted murder, you have watched as Gosling devolved from a cocky up-and-comer to a sleep-deprived humble fellow, desperately trying to save the life of the comatose woman, his values completely turned upside down (Hopkins can now legally authorize pulling the plug).

There is something about watching brilliant people take on brilliant people, seeing a battle of wits between two well-matched opponents, that is so satisfying. There are characters to root for, a well-devised script, lots of gorgeous shots of L.A. and Malibu, plus many beautiful offices in beautiful buildings. What more could you want? (For me, closed captions would have been a big plus!)

Hardly any blowie-uppie stuff, although Hopkins does shoot a gun, doesn't he!

I liked it.