Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Breaking and Entering: Jude Law wants (yet) another chance

What is most interesting about Breaking and Entering, written and directed by Anthony Minghella (Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Truly Madly Deeply) is its setting and the social construct in which the film takes place. The architect Will Francis, played by Jude Law, and his partner are working on an immense plan to redevelop the area around London's Kings Cross station, previously a "marginal" area of warehouses and cheap housing. Francis and co. have recently moved offices to a redeveloped warehouse, with an unfortunate glass roof that leaves them prey to casual thieves -- hence the title -- who twice steal the firm's new Apple computers. The geographical upheaval is echoed by social and class upheaval (the thieves are teenaged Bosnian refugees) and personal upheaval, as Will's half-Swedish longtime girlfriend Liv and her troubled gymnast daughter Bea are both unhappy with Will's lack of presence in their lives.

All could have made for a great film. Unfortunately, centering the film on Jude Law's character Will Francis weighs it down. Will is unhappy with Liv; he is inconstant and can't be trusted with the fragile Bea, who suffers an accident when left in his care. He meets the mother of one of the young thieves and contrives to start an affair with her; the fact that she's played by Juliette Binoche makes their coming together, in the tired logic of this film, inevitable. So what happens? Will eventually does the right thing in a number of ways, but doesn't seem to have changed. He's still a boy who won't or can't grow up. Minghella doesn't give us any evidence that Will wants to change or even recognizes what he's lacking, other than a trite, "I almost lost the love of my life" speech at the end. And Robin Wright Penn's Liv, although strong with her daughter and on her own, takes him back after one final outburst of rage against him. We don't get a sense that he's changed, really, other than he's had some experiences that caused him to 'fess up perhaps for the first time.

There's some annoyingly heavy symbolism. A few scenes after she gives a speech about how she's the one holding the family together, Penn tries to reassemble a broken dinner plate on the kitchen table. In another scene, Penn and Law lean against opposite ends of a mirrored door; we can see half their faces, and half their reflections. Ooh, arty. Also, there's the matter of their names: Liv, with her naturalistic response to life, and Will, who's all infantile urges. Binoche's character is called Amira, which leaves her out of this naming mess altogether. Ironically (that's one heavy iron), Binoche's son is remarkably well adjusted, although he's a thief; Penn's daughter is given to exercising 24 hours a day and doesn't sleep, and she has all the upper middle class advantages. Doesn't that just go to show you.

Jude Law's performance is, well, another Jude Law performance; he acts the right shit, then boyishly tries to make up for it. Robin Wright Penn is an interesting actress to watch, mercurial and tricky. Juliette Binoche doesn't have much to do, other than look bereaved or joyful, but she is a high point. Vera Farmiga is over the top, in a good way, as a car-pinching streetwalker who thinks that the English all talk too much. Juliet Stevenson is terrific in a small role as a child psychiatrist who sees through Law's baloney in two seconds.

One regrets that Penn's character didn't do the same. By the end of the film I was daydreaming about Penn and Binoche getting together over a bottle of vino and having a good laugh about what a silly boy Law is. He's so insubstantial that you believe more willingly in the women he attracts, but you can't really believe in them, because they're hung up on him.

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