Breaking and Entering

The Weinstein Company
Anthony Minghella/United Kingdom-United States 2006

Infidelity is a popular subject for movies to tackle. From sex, lies, and videotape to the infamous Fatal Attraction, the temptations of the flesh or the search for something that seems to be missing in our lives have been the staple of many great dramas, comedies, and thrillers.

Anthony Minghella’s latest London-based project sees pioneering architect Will (Jude Law) grappling with such a dilemma. His business sets up office in the troubled Kings Cross area of London, and immediately gets broken into. The thieves use “free running” acrobats to gain access to their targets, one of whom is Miro (securely played by newcomer Ravi Gavron) a Muslim Bosnian refugee from the conflict in Sarajevo.

Will, who is living with his long-time Swedish girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and her possibly autistic, but certainly troubled 13-year-old daughter, starts pursuing the thieves himself and ends up becoming involved with Miro’s mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche).

What follows is a beautifully shot and delicately paced investigation of an onion with too many layers. On top of the complex emotional tangle that ensues when a relationship starts to implode, Will and Liv are going through a period of serious difficulty. Minghella has added into the recipe the issues of immigration and asylum, teenage crime, autism, and a slightly confusing message about the environment.

This state-of-the-nation address does little damage to the main story. But none of it is really explored properly, which causes some problems. Is it right to portray a group of immigrants as no more than petty criminals without explaining why they are doing it? They act as a useful plot device in the film’s main story, but they deserve a better deal in the script. Not mistaking grass for nature? There is a message behind the rejuvenation of London presentation on Will’s stolen laptop, but it’s very difficult to understand exactly what his “green” company are all about.

Fortunately, Ray Winstone is on hand to deliver the message that we shouldn’t judge people too quickly, and that some of these kids get into crime out of loyalty to family or because they feel they have no other way to survive. However, casting Winstone as a pragmatic, plain-speaking police officer is a little unoriginal, even if he turns up and delivers his character flawlessly. He has some of the ripest dialogue in the film, but every scene he appears in comes alive purely by virtue of his presence.

None of these flaws prevent Breaking and Entering from being engaging and compulsive viewing. The story grabs the audience from the very beginning and fortunately for Minghella, Law is in top form as the beautiful but misunderstood renaissance man, who strays from the path but achieves redemption through a re-evaluation of his life and values. You have to feel that Law could play this part in his sleep, but he carries it off with a style and conviction that make him both believable and likable.

There are some other good performances, in particular a very witty and well observed performance by Vera Farmiga (The Departed) as the prostitute Oana who inexplicably befriends Will and tries to teach him something about foxes. Another shot across the environmentalist bows, or could it be a cloaked reference to primal urges?

The rest of the cast are all in good form, but it would appear that Martin Freeman is destined to play the same character for the rest of his career. I almost expected to see Mackenzie Crook leaning over his shoulder, offering romantic advice. The central romantic triangle is well handled, and the climax of the story wraps things up nicely. In fact the central story unfolds so beautifully, that it saves the movie from becoming an incomprehensible dirge.

The cinematography is crisp and stylish, and the whole movie reeks of quality. This is a modern soap opera which just opens up too many cans, then lets the worms wriggle around until they find their own way into the soil. A definite hit though, and an almost-certain Oscar nomination for Law.

© 2006 Phillip Piggott. All rights reserved.

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