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Six Degrees of Exasperation

MOVIE REVIEW
Fragments (2009)

Winged_creatures04
Peace Arch Entertainment

As far as predictors of quality go, few could be more telling than this: A film stars Forest Whitaker, Kate Beckinsale, Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Jackie Earle Haley and Jennifer Hudson that finds itself dumped into theaters with no advertising or fanfare just days before its DVD release. That’s the case with “Fragments,” one of those suffocating ensemble dramas set in Southern California that weave together a multipartite story in search of a grand societal statement. Australian director Rowan Woods indulges in some sub-subpar “Crash” territory here, with a laughably self-serious narrative that has less to do with reality than histrionics.

The picture opens in a diner that’s nondescript save for the presence of Mr. Whitaker, Mses. Beckinsale and Fanning and other familiar faces. A random shooting leaves a few men dead, Mr. Whitaker injured, and the entire lot severely traumatized. For some 90 turgid minutes thereafter, Roy Freirich’s screenplay (based on his novel “Winged Creatures”) looks at the ways the event stays with the major figures as they resume their normal lives.

With repeated fragmentary (get it?) flashbacks to the event combined with scenes of these actors trying too hard to show us their grievous wounds, the movie quickly descends into low-rent melodrama. One gets the persistent sense of the gears churning as Messrs. Woods and Freirich desperately try to extract tears from the audience, leaving no convolution unexplored. Mr. Whitaker stumbles around drunk during a weekend of debauchery at a local casino; Ms. Beckinsale speedily descends into working-class single-mother hell; and Ms. Fanning, possessed by visions of a cross and a bird during the shooting, transforms into a religious fundamentalist.

It’s all hammered home without the slightest regard for subtlety, with every camera angle, close-up or swelling soundtrack chord calibrated to drive home the characters’ extreme mental anguish. They’re all very depressed; and by the end of the movie, the feeling’s contagious.

FRAGMENTS

Opened on July 31 in Manhattan.

Directed by Rowan Woods; written by Roy Freirich, based on his novel “Winged Creatures”; director of photography, Eric Alan Edwards; edited by Meg Reticker; music by Marcelo Zarvos; production designer, Max Biscoe; produced by Robert Salerno; released by Peace Arch Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Kate Beckinsale (Carla Davenport), Dakota Fanning (Anne Hagen), Guy Pearce (Dr. Bruce Laraby), Forest Whitaker (Charlie Archenault), Embeth Davidtz (Joan Laraby), Troy Garity (Ron Abler), Jackie Earle Haley (Bob Jasperson), Jennifer Hudson (Kathy Archenault), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Doris Hagen) and James LeGros.

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