Breaking and Entering

December, 2006, Drama

Directed by:Anthony Minghella

Starring:Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, and Robin Wright Penn

British writer/director Anthony Minghella’s track record is impressive; in the last decade, he’s made three films, (The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley & Cold Mountain) all of which have garnered critical praise while performing handsomely at the box-office. He won an Oscar as best director for the first, another for best adapted screenplay with the second and his stars, (Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Renee Zellweger et al) have also picked up statuettes for acting in one or more of these films. He writes wonderfully sophisticated dialogue, either in original screenplays or in adapting the work of others while coaxing appealing performances from his actors; what’s not to like?

With that resume, you’d expect this Minghella script, which involves an architect’s efforts to design and oversee a massive urban renewal project in the face of its marginalized inhabitants’ smoldering resentment, to provide this gifted director the opportunity to offer some insight into the tensions that arise when a mixture of private capital, well-intentioned governmental intervention and market forces cause significant disruption to those farther down the socioeconomic scale unable to cope with the consequences. (Remember New Orleans’ 9th Ward?) While the premise is certainly promising, (it grew out of the director’s own experiences with the repeated burglarizing of his offices in one of London’s regentrified neighborhoods) Minghella delivers instead a brittle, contrived tale of familial dysfunction, infidelity and mid-life crisis which cycles a quintet of hackneyed characters through his promising storyline only to deposit them in a denouement which can be predicted long before it arrives.  

Will (Jude Law) and his partner run an architectural firm that’s redesigning Kings Cross, a seedy section of London which has long since become home to prostitution, drug sales and various crimes against property. When a gang of  thugs including a young Bosnian named Miro break into Will’s office adjacent to the project and steal his laptop computer, he follows the teenager home and sees his mother Amira, (Juliette Binoche) a winsome dark-haired widow who ekes out her living as a seamstress.  As Will’s personal life yo-yos up and down with the passive/aggressive behavior of the two females in his life, (Nordic live-in girlfriend Liv, played by Robin Wright Penn and her troubled daughter Beatrice) he chooses not to implicate Miro in the burglary and instead compulsively begins an affair with Amira, ignorant of the fact that she’s sleeping with him only to insure he won’t turn her son into the police. He’s also unaware that she’s taken explicit photos of them to hold over his head. Conscience-stricken by his lust and the devious behavior it requires of him, Will proposes to Liv - - but she refuses the offer, sensing his unfaithfulness and rejecting Will’s assertions that his affection for her isn’t hampered by Liv’s precocious but emotionally dysfunctional daughter by a former husband. 

Meanwhile, detectives that have had their eye on Miro and his crew for other crimes arrest him in connection with one of them, threatening prison if he doesn’t implicate his accomplices. Panic stricken, Amira asks Will to speak to the authorities on Miro’s behalf, but Will refuses, because doing so would necessitate admitting exposing their affair to Liv.

Has Amira fallen in love with Will? Can he bring himself to do the right thing despite her attempt to blackmail him? If he does, could Miro turn away from a budding life of crime? Is Liv capable of forgiving and forgetting Will’s search for love in all the wrong places since she’s been unwilling to open up emotionally and let him into her life?  After the first 30 minutes of this movie, will anyone in the audience care?

Minghella allowed an aura of pious claptrap to seep into Cold Mountain, turning that Civil War novel of redemming love and loss into an overwrought 21st century update of Gone With The Wind. Here, he doesn’t teeter on the brink of the pretentious; he plunges headlong into an abyss of babbling pop psychology poured over midlife crisis-induced angst, giving the audience characters of simpering self-absorption. They’re terminally unsympathetic, despite the obvious talents of the movie’s leads and the often slickly written dialogue with which they’re provided. Binoche manages to wring some sympathy out of her role as a conflicted mother, displaced from her Muslim roots in Eastern Europe and struggling to hold on to a son who’s going down the tubes, but why embellish her part with feigned performances of Bach on a soundless keyboard and ethnic community sing-alongs? Wright ‘s brief but shattering performance in Nine Lives demonstrated this gifted actress’s ability to reflect sexual confusion in her furtively expressive features. But she moons her way through this film as though her face was a semaphore, signaling tacks first in one direction and then another, with no discernable destination. Her final leap into Will’s arms suggests childish behavior, not the childlike innocence Minghella obviously intended. 

Jude Law’s chiseled features and lean body may be gorgeous to look at, but his Will is about as emotionally credible as a male model in one of Ralph Lauren’s magazine ads. When he plaintively tells Liv that his liaison with Amira was simply a misplaced search for true love it’s fair to ask just how the director expected this sob-story to contribute anything to the analysis of the gritty and troubling issue of forced urban displacement which he insists forms the purpose of his screenplay. 

B&E isn’t entirely bereft of merit; the writing is often clever, disclosing bits and pieces of the fundamental issue and key supporting roles are uniformly solid, especially that of Oana, (Vera Farmiga) a tart-tongued Russian prostitute with a heart so felonious it begs to be incarcerated. She sports an over-the-top hairdo and a deliciously cynical view of life that manages to convey some sense of the wary caution those in positions of power ought to have about the combination of civil authority’s good intentions and amoral market forces. Her tired observation that vice & crime merely relocate in the face of urban renewal efforts provides a glimmer of what Minghella surely intended to prove with this entire project. (May Ms. Farmiga return to the screen often and in increasingly expanded roles.) 

The verdict? A popular and highly regarded writer/director promises pungent social commentary but delivers a soap opera.  

Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus