In a movie of his life, Judge Daniel MacDonald would be played by an ensemble cast.
One moment shattered their lives.
Ensemble dramas revolving around a traumatic event are nothing new, and tend to either work brilliantly or not at all. I was hoping Fragments would fall into the former category.
Facts of the Case
Shortly before the lunch rush, a disparate group in a Los Angeles diner becomes witnesses and victims to a cold, and seemingly calculated, mass shooting. In the aftermath, each reacts to his or her grief in a different way: some disappear into themselves, some hurt the ones they love, some become reckless, but the lives of none will ever be the same.
Theatrically released under the title Winged Creatures, Fragments features a stellar cast including Guy Pearce (Memento), Kate Beckinsale (Nothing But the Truth), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), Dakota Fanning (I Am Sam), Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls), and Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen).
I had high hopes for Fragments based the roster of actors it attracted. Sure, it underwent a name change after its theatrical run, which oddly disassociates it from the novel on which it is based, and that can be the sign of a troubled picture, but I remained optimistic that this would be a thoughtful, heart-wrenching, and ultimately uplifting exploration of grief and chance encounters that can change one's life. Rather disappointingly, Fragments just doesn't quite get there.
On paper, Fragments must've looked like a heckuva movie. The plot wisely avoids connecting all of the characters in tenuous ways; most never see each other again after the diner or the hospital. Moreover, the various storylines are both unique and unpredictable (with the exception of Whitaker's arc of the guy who feels lucky so he goes a-gamblin'), especially the journeys Dakota Fanning's and Guy Pearce's characters take. It's easy to see how such A-list talent was attracted to the project, which promised to be provocative and insightful.
The problem, then, is one of direction, and specifically one of tone. Somehow, despite the dark places of the heart this tale chooses to explore, the movie feels slightly upbeat and even quirky. Music cues just don't strike the right note, if you'll mind the pun, failing to evoke mournfulness or sorrow when those emotions are called for. The film has a glossy veneer that doesn't quite get broken, which left me feeling surprisingly cold and disconnected from what was occurring onscreen—I didn't know what was going to happen, but I didn't much care either.
Despite the underwhelming final result, the cast members of Fragments give outstanding performances across the board. Jackie Earle Haley is nearly unrecognizable behind a big Daniel Plainview moustache, but his unmistakable acting chops stand out in a fairly thankless role. Kate Beckinsale delivers a pitch-perfect accent and portrays her working-class character without a hint of her usual glamour, while Fanning shows us once again why she's the pint-sized Meryl Streep. Guy Pearce's charm is turned up to eleven, making his unforgivable course of action seem human. If there's a reason to see Fragments, it's for the acting.
From a technical side, Fragments doesn't disappoint, although it won't be demo material either. Video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen at a fairly high bitrate, and the image is clean and blemish free. I noticed a bit of edge enhancement in high contrast areas, but no compression problems. The film's palette is pretty subdued, but certain scenes—especially early on, in the hospital's surgical room—can look pretty great. The audio doesn't have a whole lot going on, with a little bit of subtle ambience backing up the dialogue-heavy scenes, but it is crisp and well-balanced, with dialogue always easy to understand. Surrounds really pick up during flashbacks to the shooting, with the gunshots appropriately loud and jarring.
The sole special feature on the disc is a low-key commentary with Australian director Rowan Woods (Little Fish). He does well to describe the evolution of the project and his goals in telling the story, staying away largely from describing the action on-screen. He mentions a few times how he wanted this film to be a commentary on gun control issues in the United States, which is a bit odd given the content of the picture—the only gun we see is that of the shooter, briefly, and his motivations go completely unexplored. I'm not sure what conclusion we are expected to draw about guns other than that they are bad when used to kill people. Regardless, he's pleasant enough to listen to and can increase one's appreciation of the final product.
Despite superb acting and a number of storylines that should be compelling, ultimately Fragments just doesn't work for me. By the end of the picture, the thesis seems to be "Grief Happens," despite clear signs that it's reaching for something more. It may be worth a rental, especially if you're a big fan of any of the featured players, but that's about as high a recommendation as I can give.
Guilty of missing the mark.
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