Film Reviews: Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Jude Law and Juliette Binoche try to sort out their lives in ĎBreaking and Entering.í
Breaking and Entering
Starring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella. Rated R.

Breaking and Entering makes hash out of big issues, and thatís a petty crime.


Anthony Minghella made his name as the director of lush, cosmopolitan, epic literary adaptations with period settings, beginning with The English Patient in 1996 and continuing through The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain. These were all respectable films, even if The English Patient was absurdly overrated, but none of them had anything like the warmth, insight, and good humor of his gemlike 1991 supernatural romance Truly, Madly, Deeply. While he was doing all those Oscar-bait pictures, I kept wishing that heíd go back to making a small, character-driven movie like that one. His latest film, Breaking and Entering, is just such a return. The lesson for me is: I should be careful what I wish for.

For, you see, Breaking and Entering is little more than a tepid British version of Crash, and thatís a movie we so did not need. This sleek contemporary drama tries to comment on some big issues in addition to analyzing domestic situations and relationships among a multitude of characters in various strata of English society. What a shame, then, that all of Minghellaís considerable efforts amount to a movie that plays like itís wrapped in several layers of cotton.

Jude Law portrays Will Francis, the co-founder of a struggling architectural firm whose office is located in the crime- and drug-infested north London district of Kingís Cross. The British government wants to revitalize the area ó this is true in real life, by the way ó and Willís grand plan is to turn Kingís Cross into a sparkling retail paradise centered on a walkway along the river. The urgency of his work is brought home when his office is repeatedly broken into and burglarized. The culprits turn out to be a group of Bosnian mobsters who rely on the gymnastic skills of an adolescent boy named Mirsad Simic (Rafi Gavron) to get inside the building. After spending a few nights staking out the office, Will manages to catch Mirsad in the act and follow him to his motherís apartment.

The movieís climax hinges on whether Will can save Mirsad from a life of crime, but this part of the story flops badly because the teen is never convincing as a character. Heís stubborn and uncommunicative, as boys that age tend to be, and weíre supposed to believe that heís salvageable because he can turn back flips and shares Willís interest in architecture. In fact, after stealing Willís laptop, Mirsad views the files containing the urban renewal project and is so taken with them that he burns them onto a disk before erasing them, then leaves the disk on Willís desk during a subsequent break-in. This is a hopelessly naÔve way of showing that this kid has beauty in his soul despite living in poverty, and itís typical of Minghellaís failed attempts to humanize the many expat characters in his movie. Too often they turn out as broad caricatures; the Ukrainian prostitute who chats with Will during his stakeouts (The Departedís Vera Farmiga) is so badly conceived and written that sheís downright embarrassing. If youíre looking for a movie that deals with Britainís relationship with its immigrants, youíre better off seeing Children of Men.

Thereís a romantic subplot thatís supposed to provide a framework so that we can better understand the filmís issues, but it only serves to muddy things. Willís Swedish wife (Robin Wright Penn) has put a successful filmmaking career on hold to take care of her 13-year-old daughter from a previous marriage (Poppy Rogers), who is severely mentally ill. Feeling excluded from his own family, Will winds up having an affair with Mirsadís mother Amira (Juliette Binoche), a Bosnian Muslim refugee who earns money by sewing clothes from home.

The French actress is woefully miscast, yet in playing a character whoís improvising her way through a precarious existence, Binoche manages to come across as believably messy. Thatís a huge accomplishment in a film where every plot twist is so unbelievably neat, and where every emotional meltdown is placed so meticulously within the story that it loses impact. Minghella doesnít help matters by hammering insistently on the theme that these characters are trying to break through someone elseís defenses and establish a connection. Just like in Crash, this movieís title serves as a cheap, obvious metaphor as well as a reference to literal events.

At least we can be thankful that Breaking and Entering is too well-mannered to descend to the earlier movieís tawdry ďweíre all racistsĒ rhetoric. Yet itís also too well-mannered to give us anything in the way of dramatic fireworks, and despite a few moments that ring true, itís too clumsily written to be the delicate character study that it sets out to be. This movieís failure wonít be overly conspicuous, but it still makes me worry that the guy who made Truly, Madly, Deeply is gone for good. I hope Iím wrong.

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