The story of one man's licentious journey toward discovering what is most important in his life, "Breaking and Entering" seems to be heading toward a big dramatic catharsis that never comes. Perhaps that is the conventionalist moviegoer in me, trained to expect the obvious from years of watching unoriginal Hollywood fare typified by a fear of taking chances. As written and directed by Anthony Minghella (2003's "Cold Mountain
"), "Breaking and Entering" does not transform into a sleazy or violent thriller, which would have been very easy to do with the material, but keeps its characters and situations rooted in reality. Is the story itself worth telling? That is more open for discussion, since the picture is told with such a low-key touch that, by the end, it doesn't really seem like much has happened.
Will (Jude Law) is a landscape architect living in London with out-of-work longtime girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and her mentally troubled 13-year-old daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers). When Will's office is broken into twice, he begins a stakeout night after night, hoping to catch the robber in the act. His surveillance leads him to the culprit15-year-old petty thief Miro (Ravi Gavron), a good kid who has fallen in with some bad influences. Tracking him back to his home, Will decides to personally investigate further, ingratiating himself in the life of Miro's Bosnian mother Amira (Juliette Binoche), a lonely seamstress hesitant to get close to anyone. Will's own life isn't exactly the happiest one, his relationship with Liv having turned chilly and passive, and before long he is engaging in an affair with Amira. What Will doesn't know is that Amira is more informed than he realizes about his identity, and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her son out of jail.
The plot of "Breaking and Entering" is difficult to fit into a tidy one-paragraph synopsis. What has just been written suggests that the film is a tale of revenge and double-crosses, which it is not. True, Will is deceiving both Amira and Liv, and in return Amira takes the first steps toward blackmailing him. From there, though, writer-director Anthony Minghella merges off a predictable path and into developments that cannot be guessed in advance. There is a pivotal sequence during the climax set at a private court hearing that is morally questionable and, on one character's end, not totally convincing. This scene, and the ones following it, draw to a conclusion that feels a bit too pat and lets more than one character off the hook too easily.
And yet, Minghella mostly sells the problematic details of his script through the care with which he has penned his characters. The not-quite-marriage of Will and Liv is blisteringly honest in the way they are emotionally separating from each other despite a love that still exists. Their faltering relationship isn't the usual movie-style kind full of yelling and throwing things, but quiet and despondent. When they do talk to each other, they refreshingly say what is on their minds, and when the truth comes out as it must about Will's indiscretions with Amira, Liv's reaction to the news is surprising, graceful and authentic. Meanwhile, Will's time with Amira is just as it seemsa means toward setting Will's life straight and giving Amira a reason to believe in the goodness of strangersand not deceptively made to be more than that.
Jude Law (2006's "The Holiday
"), Juliette Binoche (2000's "Chocolat") and Robin Wright Penn (2004's "A Home at the End of the World
") are well-cast as the three protagonists caught in a love triangle that not all involved are aware of. Law plays Will as a man whose wandering eye takes him to a decision that could alter his life in ways he isn't prepared for, and the actor is very good at saying a lot with his body when he isn't speaking out loud. Binoche, adopting a believable Bosnian accent, is sympathetic as the closed-up Amira even when the audience isn't sure whether or not her intentions are pure. And as Liv, Wright Penn does lovely, unshowy work that excels beyond the role of a long-suffering love interest. The supporting players do their jobs with proficiency, but only Vera Farmiga (2006's "The Departed
") stands out. Alas, it is for the wrong reasons that she does, since Farmiga's part of Oana, a Russian prostitute that Will meets while on his stakeouts, goes nowhere and is abruptly dropped before the first half is over.
Mild-mannered and wavering toward subtlety over broad actions, "Breaking and Entering" will probably leave mainstream audiences cold. Indeed, when the film ends, it isn't outrageous to suspect that most viewers, myself included, will leave wondering what the point was. Dig deeper, however, and some weighty themes and ideas involving the nature of love, honesty, trust and fidelity crystallize with a sincere and poignant relevancy. "Breaking and Entering" isn't a movie to bring preconceived notions to, but one that plays by its own rules and hopes prospective audiences are patient enough to follow fascinating characters whose lives are more rewarding to watch than the ho-hum plot surrounding them.