'Breaking and Entering' Is Too Ripe
By John Hartl, Film critic, MSNBC
When Anthony Minghella directs adaptations, the results are almost always rewarding. They certainly impress the Academy Awards voters, who named "The English Patient" the best picture of 1996 and showered "Cold Mountain" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" with nominations.
Minghella also has a knack for bringing out the best in Jude Law, an uneven performer who has been nominated twice under his direction: for best supporting actor in "The Talented Mr. Ripley," and for best actor in "Cold Mountain."
Unfortunately, when Minghella directs original screenplays ("Mr. Wonderful," to name his least successful film), the results are usually thinner, less rich, less exciting. Even Law seems uninspired by the material in his third Minghella collaboration, "Breaking and Entering," which is based on Minghella's own story.
Much of it plays like a first draft for an ambitious movie that would surely make more sense if it had gone through a rewrite or two. The script deals with unlikely connections between yuppies and immigrants in 21st Century London, specifically the seedy King's Cross area, where the streets are dominated by prostitutes, gang members and dubious attempts at urban renewal.
Law plays a landscape architect who is plagued by a series of burglaries at work, and by troubles with his depressed girlfriend (Robin Wright Penn) and her hyper 13-year-old daughter (Poppy Rogers) at home. His offices are robbed by a Bosnian teenager and computer expert (Rafi Gavron) whose widowed mother (Juliette Binoche) is failing to keep the boy out of trouble.
When the widow falls for the architect, the attraction seems less than inevitable. It feels like a plot device. Equally contrived is the dialogue.
"When do you stop looking at each other?" Law's character asks himself in the opening scene, as he senses the chill of estrangement from Penn.
"We have a life and you've thrown it away," Binoche tells Gavron. "I didn't ask to survive," he responds.
Everyone talks like that, including Law's chummy business partner (Martin Freeman) and a heart-of-gold hooker (Vera Farmiga) whose worldly advice could have been lifted from "Irma La Douce." Whenever Minghella the screenwriter seems in doubt, he tends to spell out everything, and Minghella the director often fails to rein him in.
During a nightmarish dinner-table scene, Penn claims that she's trying hard to hold this family together. When a plate breaks, she literally picks up the pieces and tries to reassemble it. By the time Law's character is criticizing his own penchant for obvious metaphors, the self-consciousness reaches fever pitch.
Perhaps the topper belongs to Penn: "When you hurt so much, you can't hurt twice." Are we that far here from "Love means never having to say you're sorry"?
Minghella treats all of his characters with a compassion that makes the riper dialogue almost tolerable, and the actors bravely deliver it as if they meant it. Binoche comes off best, partly because her unstable widow, who is easily the most complex character, has witnessed real horror and responds rashly but understandably to a romantic opportunity.