Judge Daniel MacDonald prefers the new reduced-charm Jude Law to his the previous irresistible, boy toy model.
Love is no ordinary crime.
Writer/director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) takes some time off from epic period romances to create this tale of relationships in modern Britain. Great cast, great director—do the pieces add up to an great movie?
Facts of the Case
Successful architect Will Francis (Jude Law, Cold Mountain) has his shiny new office space, located in a high-crime area of London called King's Cross, targeted by acrobatic thieves with a shared taste for Mac computers and no sooner is the equipment replaced then it's stolen again. The crimes, and his efforts to catch the culprits, find him testing his relationship with longtime girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn, The Pledge), her borderline-autistic daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers, The Thief Lord), and his business partner, Sandy (Martin Freeman, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).
Nights of staking out his building pay off when he spies a boy named Miro (Rafi Gavron) attempting another break-in, and Will chases him to his home where he lives with his immigrant mother Amira (Juliette Binoche, Damage). Will's curiosity leads to an affair, and forces him to face what he truly wants from his life.
A thought-provoking, and ultimately very satisfying, exploration of communication and yearning, this is a poetic piece of filming, and continues Minghella's reputation as an assured auteur who avoids easy answers in the pursuit of universal truths. It's not until well after the credits roll that the impact is really felt.
Breaking and Entering is in the best tradition of European film—in the disc's audio commentary, Minghella cites Krzysztof Kieslowski as an influence, and indeed the picture is stylistically in-line with The Double Life of Veronique or his Three Colours trilogy. It's a simple plot but complex story, with nuances of character having a profound effect on decisions and behavior.
It's also in the vein of Woody Allen (Annie Hall), except this is a love letter to London rather than New York. The area of King's Cross is very much a character, and we learn a great deal about its demographics, its attitudes, and its struggles. This is a London not commonly depicted on film.
The character of Will is complicated and finely drawn, with Jude Law turning down his normal charm quotient to portray a convincing everyman. Despite his affair, he remains sympathetic because his uncertainty and yearnings are so clear from the start. Faced with committing to the choices he's made, Will starts to withdraw from his family, but never so much that he's beyond turning back. One of the film's great strengths is that actions, while not reversible, are never portrayed as irredeemable; we can make up for our mistakes, and be better people because of them.
Motif and metaphor abound, but strangely never seem forced (quite a feat considering that at one point Will actually utters the line, "Perhaps that's why I like metaphors," which in a lesser film would have likely resulted in tomatoes being thrown at my television). Instead, a tapestry of thematic elements is expertly woven together, resulting in a rich work that rewards multiple viewings. Most obvious is the use of mirrors and glass to draw attention to the characters' duality, and the ways in which they reflect each other, which is a major theme throughout. As much as Breaking and Entering is about Will's relationship issues, its also about two mothers' opposing tactics in raising their children. Liv focuses intensely on Bea's life and development, almost smothering her with love and concern, partly because of Bea's condition and partly because of her own. In contrast, Amira seems to want to be like her teenage son, joining him on the playground and believing all too easily the lies that he tells. Will and Liv's house is a nearly empty neutral-toned black hole of personality, while Amira's small apartment is jam packed with clutter. Bea is a gymnast, while Miro is a free runner. Similarities and differences speak volumes about character motivations and why they are drawn to each other.
Responsible for much of the emotional impact is the precise music by Gabriel Yared (Possession), in conjunction with electronica group Underworld. By turns ethereal and energetic, it perfectly complements the gorgeous cinematography of Benoit Delhomme (The Proposition). And I defy anyone not to be moved by the Sigur Ros track that accompanies the end credits.
Acting, as one would expect from this cast, is top notch. Juliette Binoche is strikingly raw and vulnerable as Amira, completely convincing as an immigrant seamstress reluctant to trust and willing to do anything for her son. Robin Wright Penn effectively projects the confinement and inner turmoil of depression behind a calm, ultra-controlled exterior. Martin Freeman gives un uncharacteristically dramatic performance as Sandy, stealing attention in every scene he's in whether he speaks or not—this feels like a breakout role, and I expect to see him pop up in more North American fare soon. And actress du jour Vera Farmiga (The Departed) is delightful in a small role as a prostitute who keeps Will company as he enacts surveillance on his empty office. Overall, this is an actors' film, and there are no weak links.
Genius Products has put together a DVD with a sharp, clean transfer. Close-ups reveal fine detail and texture in clothes and on faces with little smearing or edge enhancement, and the copious shades of white in the palette are accurately differentiated. Some of the night scenes have a bit of black crush, but otherwise this is a fine transfer. As for the audio, music and ambience makes good use of all speakers and the full dynamic range, but the mix is front heavy for the most part.
The highlight of the special features package is the feature-length audio commentary by Minghella, in which he engagingly and self-deprecatingly describes the development of the story, the shooting process, his rationale for directorial choices, and lots of trivia. This is an excellent commentary with almost no lulls, and Minghella respects the intelligence of the viewer enough not to merely describe what's happening onscreen. Even causal fans of the picture should check this superb commentary out. Six deleted scenes are also included with optional commentary, most of which are additional exposition from the first act. A short featurette is informative and entertaining but goes into little depth on the production process.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those looking for mindless entertainment or torrid sexiness will be disappointed by Breaking and Entering. It's not trying to titillate, nor lead the audience by the hand down a familiar path. The DVD cover speaks of a "forbidden affair that threatens to destroy the lives of everybody around them," but this seems awfully misleading—what I like about this picture is that, while the emotional stakes are high, we know that life will go on regardless of how things turn out. Events like these don't destroy lives, but they can lead to great change.
Breaking and Entering is a quietly affecting movie, one that sneaks up on you and makes you care deeply about its players without knowing or expecting it. The slow pace only gives more time to savor the rich characterization, the precise detail of the setting, and the complexity of the situation, leading to a satisfying and appropriate conclusion.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
• Feature Commentary with Writer/Director Anthony Minghella
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