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DVD Review – Breaking and Entering

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Written by Caballero Oscuro

Director Anthony Minghella rose to prominence with a trio of literary adaptations (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain) but returns to his own original material for Breaking and Entering. He borrowed his acting leads from his past works, relying on regular collaborator Jude Law and returning star Juliette Binoche, then added Robin Wright Penn to form a potent thespian trinity. He set the film in modern London and constructed a tale of literal and figurative theft relying on nuanced performances. On paper, it seems like this film should be a sure-fire winner, at least for the Oscar-minded crowd, so it's surprising that Minghella’s original script fails to ignite.

Will Francis (Law) is a successful architect in the midst of opening a sprawling new office with his business partner Sandy (Martin Freeman) in the crime-ridden King’s Cross area of London. Unfortunately, all of the shiny new Macs and monitors are an irresistible draw for the area crooks, leading to two back-to-back break-ins that leave the partners shell-shocked and deservedly jumpy about security. Will decides to stake out the office at night, setting up patrol outside in his car that yields results when he observes the athletic young thief (Rafi Gavron) trying to break in again. His pursuit of the thief leads him to the thief’s home, where he eventually spots the kid’s somewhat frumpy mother Amira (Binoche). And here’s the exact point where the movie throws all credibility out the window.

Any sane character would immediately contact the police and have the thief apprehended, but Will is curious about his background and decides to try to learn more about him and his mother instead. Keep in mind that he’s a wealthy architect in a completely different social stratosphere with a lovely wife (Penn) and daughter waiting at home. Upon discovering that Amira works as a tailor, he approaches her with some garments to mend as a pretense to explore the boy’s room. Amira is a timid Bosnian refugee, while Will is flashy and cosmopolitan (not much of a stretch for Law), but he finds himself drawn to her and eventually enters a torrid affair. Sure, he’s having significant marital problems at home, but his preference of the dowdy and stoic peasant Amira over his classy wife Liv nevers comes close to ringing true, leaving the film’s emotional core completely bankrupt.

There’s more foolishness regarding the boy’s eventual apprehension and the far-fetched joint efforts of Amira, Will, and Liv to free him, but it’s all going through the motions by then since the film has long since lost any chance of redemption. Somehow, a film about infidelity, the plight of refugees, and even parkour urban acrobatics seemed like fertile territory for Minghella’s tale of love lost and found, but he’s never able to produce a convincing reason for viewers to buy into the concept.

To its further detriment, the film downplays the looks of its attractive leads. Binoche is understandably plain, while Penn and Law both look so surprisingly haggard and tortured that they hold little appeal for even their most fervent fans. Law comes out of this travesty the best, although he fails to ignite even the slightest amount of chemistry with either of his co-stars.

Minghella surely intended to play the criminal break-ins against the emotional manipulations of his leads, asking the audience to ponder which were more morally reprehensible. Regrettably, he forgot to develop a compelling reason for viewers to care about any of his pathetic characters. The refugee aspect adds absolutely nothing to the plot since Minghella offers little commentary about their plight, serving more as a major distraction as viewers try to suspend their disbelief about Binoche portraying a destitute Bosnian. Even the thief’s parkour action scenes seem clumsily grafted onto what is an otherwise weighty drama.

Minghella's films have always seemed overly self-important, but at least in the past he had solid literary origins to fall back upon. Here he’s left to his own devices, sinking the production with his plodding, uninvolving, and completely unbelievable script.

The DVD release adds in six deleted scenes, as well as a commentary track by Minghella and a featurette on the making of the film.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS