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February 12, 2007 |

By John Williams | Film | February 12, 2007 |

February may be a hopeful time for baseball fans (pitchers and catchers, y’all!), but for moviegoers it is a long, dark night of the soul. That’s why, with Norbit and Because I Said So and Epic Movie dimly lighting up our marquees, it’s refreshing to come across Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering. It’s not a great movie, or even a very good one, but whatever your opinion of The English Patient, his most divisive effort, Minghella is a pro, and here he’s hit a solid if unremarkable ground-rule double. It’s a movie for grownups, anyway, which seems more than enough these frigid days.

Will Francis (Jude Law) is a London architect with a sputtering home life. He and his longtime girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn), are having trouble communicating, and her teenage daughter from a previous relationship, Bea (Poppy Rogers), shows signs of autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She’s slowly driving Will and Liv crazy, and Will’s frustration is compounded by his feeling excluded from the intimacy of Liv and Bea’s biological bond.

Will’s firm has recently opened an airy new office in the seedy King’s Cross area of central London. Twice in quick succession, the office is burglarized, and his laptop, complete with family photos and videos, is among a lot of expensive equipment that’s lifted. The vandals are acrobatic young kids (working for older family members) who enter the renovated-warehouse space through the glass ceiling, bounding down to the floor in time to run and turn off the alarm.

Given his icy domestic situation, Will happily spends his nights parked outside the office, keeping an eye out for another nighttime theft, and it’s in these scenes that the movie is stolen by Vera Farmiga, who plays Oana, a prostitute who keeps Will company in the front seat of his SUV (innocently) as he plays watchman. Their moments together feel natural, and her irreverence and comic timing are a welcome relief from the film’s dominant tone, an overly determined malaise of emotional severity and repression.

One night, the two stop talking long enough to spy a boy clinging, Spider-Man-like, to the side of the building. This is Miro (Rafi Gavron), a young Bosnian refugee, and Will gives chase, catching up to him (or close enough) in time to find out where he lives. Will then strikes up a relationship with Miro’s mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche), a seamstress, by asking her to repair some of his clothes.

As Will falls for Amira even while he remains interested in bringing her son to justice, Breaking and Entering joins movies like Babel, Crash and (to go back just a little further) Magnolia in an unfortunately thriving cinematic genre based on interpersonal contrivances that stretch belief until it groans, following networks of people connected through improbable social webbing in order to show the audience how delicate life is. Jude Law flaps his wings in posh London, and a family in poor London suffers through a hurricane. Spare me.

Still, Breaking and Entering is worth seeing, especially this deep in the fallow pre-Oscar season. There are a handful of cringe-worthy lines, but they’re mostly uttered by Will, and it’s hard to decide — like when he tells Liv that he’d like to collect her laughs and put them in a box — if the dialogue is unintentionally clunky or if he’s just a well-drawn doofus. As in Closer, Law is terrific at playing someone who’s totally spineless and running on the fumes of his charm.

And if the characters ultimately get off easy — as in Little Children, in which messily entangled yuppies are handed their epiphanies a bit too neatly wrapped, Minghella leaves us with a not-quite-earned sense that all is more or less well — what saves Breaking and Entering is that the forced social set-up fulfills a more subtle purpose than the crude, faux-profound “We are all racists!” finger-wagging of a movie like Crash. In the end, Will has simply replicated the original problem, his position outside of a parent-child relationship. Amira, rightfully and predictably, is more protective of her son than her budding affair with Will, who once again finds himself the runner-up to a more abiding love.

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s an editor at Harper Perennial and a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

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Breaking and Entering / John Williams

Film | February 12, 2007 |

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