February 14-20, 2007

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'Breaking and Entering'

©The Weinstein Company, 2006/Laurie Sparham
Driven: Jude Law wants to rebuild a blighted neighborhood in 'Breaking and Entering.'

Glass Ceiling

Anthony Minghella's 'Breaking and Entering' offers filmgoers another lesson in urban symbiosis

By Richard von Busack

IT HOLDS tight to its theme, Breaking and Entering—another relay-race, multiculti, multicharacter drama, seeking to tie up the classes in a city. So why does it still seem as if the various threads were forced to fit together?

Director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) has a yeasty subject: a poor neighborhood broken down by redevelopment. The setting could have been eastern Paris or the Third Street corridor in San Francisco, but here we see the area around King's Cross railway station and the bulging Gothic tower of St. Pancras.

Developers are tearing up the old brown-brick London. Minghella gives us a top-down look at the plans. Surveying a huge model of what the new neighborhood will look like, a police CID detective (Ray Winstone), gestures to show the streets that he says are inhabited by "Somalians with machetes."

A company called "Green Effect" proposes to bend the existing canal through the new development to create some public space. Urban planner Will (Jude Law) has helped set up a new headquarters to overlook the operations, directly in the middle of the abandoned warehouse district. They've just received a suite of expensive Macs and plasma screens, toys that draw the attention of the neighborhood thieves.

Miro (Rafi Gavron) is more of an apprentice thief. He's about 16, a Sarajevo-bred Bosnian-Serb refugee working for his career-criminal uncle. Miro is also an expert free runner, a skill he uses as a cat burglar. Leaping up to the top of the Green Effect building, he smashes through a glass skylight to let his fellow burglars in. His cut in the robbery is a laptop; in his bed at home, he admires Will's family photos and home movies. Will's daughter, Beatrice (Poppy Rogers), is a superb gymnast.

What can't be told from the home movies is that she is also a troubled autistic. Beatrice's sickness has driven a wedge between Will and his half-Swedish live-in, Liv (Robin Wright Penn), Bea's mother. Liv is battling a Scandinavian-worthy depression that has lasted for years.

Miro and his gang rip off the office more than once, so Will decides to keep surveillance on his building. At night, he befriends a £50-a-shot street prostitute Oana (Vera Farmiga, having fun with an east-of-Bucharest accent).

The lady warms herself in Will's car, passing on salty advice as they drink coffee together. Sitting in the driver's seat, Will sees Miro trying to break into his office and chases the young thief back to his home. There Will meets, and eventually falls for, Miro's Bosnian Muslim mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche), widowed in the Balkan war.

Breaking and Entering contains such ancient-movie symbolism as a red fox in heat baying outside the window of Liv and Will's discontent-ridden flat. (Are foxes as common as raccoons in London, then? The phenomena of a wild fox in north London doesn't seem to get the admiration it deserves.) And the script displays some strained patches. Believe it or don't, Binoche has to explain one of her actions in the following words. "You must know that mothers will do anything to protect their children."

Symmetry helps in these ever-popular tag-team dramas, but the film's angles are almost as brutal as the modern London architecture the film observes. And that is brutal indeed; Miro and Amira's place looks as if it had been retrofitted into a line of concrete handball courts.

Linking the upper and lower classes, Minghella uses a heavy pen: Miro is an athlete, and so is Bea; Liv's dead relatives in Sweden match the body count in Amira's past. One longs for the shagginess of a performance that isn't trimmed to fit a grid. And the young man Miro is the only other one who seems to have street life in him, who seems to understand the possible consequences of the game he's in.

Breaking and Entering needs more unruly moments, as when Winstone puts his thick finger into Law's expensive table-top architectural layout, saying, "I was born just around here." But he drops out, and so does Farmiga's Oana. Farmiga seems to have some delirious mischief in her that no director has let out yet—all the men in The Departed got to blow their tops, but not her.

Law's fascinating air of amorality contradicts the film's claim that were are all weak together. Even his displays of weakness have some will power to them; Law isn't a man who forgets his looks, or his privileges. Will does some things that aren't considered "sympathetic" in the big-movie manner, and that's why Breaking and Entering deserves some attention. It's not as gutless as Crash, for instance.

But the ending is another dreary example of the story where everyone gets to have it his or her way. That's where the film seems most forced—how else could it be? It keeps stressing we are all connected, even while it's obvious in real life that the connections aren't all that schematic. Human relations in a great city are rickety, finite and bounded by mutual pride and shame. That's what makes life more interesting than some movies.

Movie Times Breaking and Entering (R; 120 min.), directed and written by Anthony Minghella, photographed by Benoît Delhomme and starring Jude Law and Vera Farmiga, opens Feb. 16.

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