English Title: Fracture

Country of Origin: New Zealand

Director: Larry Parr

Producer(s): Charlie McClellan

Screenplay: Larry Parr

Cinematographer: Fred Renata

Art Director: John Harding

Editor: Jonathan Woodford-Robinson

Runtime: 107 minutes

Genre: Drama

Language: English

Starring/Cast: Michael Hurst, Kate Elliot, Liddy Holloway, Tim Lee, Jared Turner, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Miranda Harcourt, John Noble

Year: 2004

Volume: Australasian

Fracture is an ensemble piece, its complicated narrative tracing the intricate interplay of contacts among a disparate group of Wellingtonians. One uniting factor is Leeanne Rosser, a young solo mother. Her brother Brent triggers off events by his burgling upmarket houses. When the occupant of one (Ulla) returns home unexpectedly, Brent attacks her and causes her to strike her head as she topples down the stairs. The injury paralyses her. This crime serves to link the lives of two disparate families: an affluent family named Peet (Ulla’s in-laws), and Brent and Leeanne’s working-class family. While Leeanne displays pluck, resourcefulness and determination in attempting to find accommodation and security for herself and her baby, Brent begins to deteriorate mentally as the consequences of his violent action sink in. Displaying a psychopathic lack of remorse and a disintegrating identity, he takes his fear of arrest to extreme lengths by severing his fingers to destroy his fingerprints and by murdering a fence who threatens to expose him. Meanwhile Leeanne tries unsuccessfully to reconcile with her hostile mother and attempts to help Brent. Ulla’s accident brings out her family’s compassionate side while Leeanne’s father finds the strength to invite her to live with him.

Fracture’s director Larry Parr has been better known during his long career in film and television (dating back to Sleeping Dogs in 1977) as a producer rather than for directing. He has been particularly known for his energetic participation in projects reflecting the Maori part of his heritage. Wittily, he has all Fracture’s senior professionals (judge, police detectives, hospital doctor) played by Maori actors, subverting social statistics by having brown authority figures mete out justice to white criminals. Parr produced many films in the 1980s but his company Mirage Films folded after the 1987 stock market crash. The company he owned when he began making Fracture, Kahukura Productions, also suffered financial collapse. He now works in Maori television.

Fracture is a relatively little-known film, especially compared to In My Father’s Den, released in the same year and, like Fracture, adapted from a novel by Maurice Gee. It had little critical attention, which is a shame because it is an ambitious and interesting, if flawed, piece of work. Unusually for a New Zealand film, it belongs to the same narrative mode exemplified by such American films as Grand Canyon (Lawrence Kasdan, 1991), Short Cuts (Robert Altman, 1993), Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999) and Crash (Paul Haggis, 2005), i.e. a panoramic, ensemble film having a large number of characters and multiple storylines rather than a unified plot following one or two protagonists.

As a portrait of Wellington, Fracture could be termed Dickensian. Like that author, both Gee (an admirer of Dickens) and Parr examine the issue of the need for families and communities to take personal and social responsibility for each other in an increasingly self-centred culture (especially during the property/share market boom of the 1980s). The film favours social cohesion rather than the social fracture indicated by its title. As in the American film Crash, lives collide in Fracture: those of Ulla and Brent most tragically. They both become casualties of Brent’s crime.

Through its two main groups of characters, the film explores the theme of family. Leeanne becomes a Madonna figure, giving help and inspiration as she wanders the city with her baby, even feeding her brother Brent like a child. The normally aloof Howie Peet (played by John Noble of the TV series Fringe) gives the paralysed Ulla whisky through a straw and his ex-wife Gwen is ready to help Ulla with euthanasia. Howie even shows paternal care for his errant son Gordie, in jail for fraud and incarcerated among tough gang members. Howie is a rather clichéd Dickensian rich man whose drive and ruthless ambition must be softened by a change of heart.

Leeanne’s outwardly pious mother Irene proves not to be a true Christian (her religiosity is judgmental rather than nurturing); in contrast, her father Clyde is more the true Christian in terms of helping and showing the compassion encapsulated in Matthew 25:40: ‘In as much as ye have done it to one of the least of these my children, ye have done it to me.’ Clyde bashes a violent slob, knocking him cold, much to the audience’s satisfaction. He also takes Leeanne and her part-Polynesian child back to form a new family unit. The accident to Ulla thus brings family members together, creating a more tightly-knit community rather than letting them persist in their atomized lives. Even Brent seeks a replacement mother figure in Mrs Ponder, the fence, although his bizarre fantasy proves futile and murderous. This pattern of family self-reliance is summarized near the end by Leeanne who, when offered a ride home from police station, states what is almost the film’s motto: ‘We’ll make our own way.’

Author of this review: Brian McDonnell