Thursday, January 25, 2007

Breaking and Entering - Movie Review

Breaking and Entering 2006

When our dear old chum Lana Turner rang to invite us to be her guest at the premiere of Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering”, we cancelled our dinner plans, rang 21 to hold us a late table and hailed a cab over to the Paris theatre! As we sat laughing over old times . . . the Artie Shaw stories alone never fail to make us howl out loud, I had to remind Lana about the career of Mr. Minghella. (Poor dear, she may be a star but the years have not been kind to her memory.)

Anywho, as you may or may not know, prior to his multi Oscar winning “The English Patient, Anthony was a talented British writer / director that burst upon the scene with his lovely “Truly Madly Deeply” – a thinking man’s “Ghost” if you will. And by “thinking”, we mean anybody with a pulse. However, after the success and numerous accolades for “The English Patient”, Anthony began to focus on the big epic novel to screen adaptations with the deliciously ripe “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and the lovely Civil War romance “Cold Mountain” which earned him further praise and launched the career of one Jude Law who quickly ascended to the ranks of hunk stardom.

Well, Anthony and Jude are back with Mr. Minghella’s first original screenplay in sixteen years. Now, one of the many nice things about attending a premiere is getting to hear the creators and performers introduce their film in person. Last night, Harvey Weinstein, the meshugenah producer and Oscar glutton brought forth Mr. Minghella who charmed us with his delightful back story to the script prior to introducing the extremely talented distaff side of the cast – Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn and Vera Farmiga. (No, Jude was not in attendance but it was worth the price of the comp admission to watch every woman and ‘Mo in the place crane their necks in rapt and lustful anticipation that he might actually appear.)

The downside to attending the premiere was in realizing that the genesis to the script for “Breaking and Entering” is more interesting than the finished product. For you see, Mr. Minghella beguiled the audience with his plan to write a story about a married couple who is going through a crisis only to discover that their home has been broken into. When they begin to take an inventory of their possessions, they realize that the criminals left behind objects instead of stealing them. The objects begin a discussion and examination of their failing marriage and act as a sort of metaphor for the very things they might have been missing from their lives. We loved that idea!

And then the film began. What we got instead was a complicated and a bit too distractingly baroque drama about a couple portrayed by Jude Law and Robin Wright Penn, who are suffering severe strain on their marriage, much of which circles around Robin’s thirteen year old child from a previous relationship that has been diagnosed with autism. Jude works as an Urban developer / architect with an office in the King’s Cross section of London, where crime and vagrancy and worst of all – a good amount of immigrants are the norm. When his offices are broken into, his life is completely turned around by the series of events that lead him to the home of one Amira, a refugee from Bosnia played by the luminescent Juliette Binoche in the stand out performance of the flick.

Now, while it still may sound like a manageable story, we suddenly flashbacked sixteen years ago to the pluses and minuses of “Truly Madly Deeply”. We remember enjoying that film, in particular the performances by Alan Rickman and the divine Juliet Stevenson – seen here in “Breaking and Entering” in a nicely done cameo as the child’s therapist. We also remember being slightly annoyed by the pontificating and the speechifying that emitted from the characters lips. Their dialogue was less dramatic and more declamatory. It played like a book on tape in the worst scenes. Thankfully it managed to overcome that hurdle with its sense of whimsy and sterling performances.

Breaking and Entering” never quite overcomes a similar curse. Instead of dialogue that flows and bends with the characters intentions, we get actual exchanges like the following: “I think the reason I like metaphors is . . .” followed of course by extended metaphors. C-L-U-N-K-Y, Mr. Minghella, clunky. And while we think Anthony is more than capable of dramatizing a good novel, he may not be able to produce an original screenplay that soars to match his casting choices and production values.

On the plus side, the acting and direction are very fine indeed. Jude Law has always been a fine actor, hidden under the deliciously pretty face of a star. We first sampled his gifts on Broadway with his breakthrough role in the soaring Sean Mathias production of Jean Cocteau’sIndiscretions”. While his onstage bath in his birthday suit caught the tabloid attention, his acting talents earned him a Tony Award nomination. His screen debut in “The Talented Mr. Ripley” earned him an Oscar nomination. And so, a star was born. Here, looking a bit more grey and puffy around the corners he is completely believable as a man who views his domestic life as work, and his office as play.

Robin Wright Penn is simply wonderful as the half Swedish (We hope it’s the half that eats.) wife and mother whose life is consumed with the care of her daughter who loves gymnastics and hates the color yellow. Don’t ask us, it’s an autism thing. She works small miracles with the underwritten role and makes the audience care far more than her character deserves.

As Amira, the Bosnian refugee who works as a seamstress in her cramped apartment and dotes on her teenage son who as of late is giving her nothing but grief, Juliette Binoche has the meatier role and positively soars. And when we say “meatier”, we mean the dramatically shaky and almost operatic moments of the screenplay that she is asked to embody. For this is a woman who has suffered greatly in the past (Bosnian, go figure.), and will do or say anything to safeguard her child. The manner in which Miss Binoche handles the very tricky transitions is admirable to say the least. Clearly, the bond between actress and director is just as strong as it was for her Oscar winning turn in “The English Patient”.

As her son, Miro – newcomer Rafi Gavron has a face that the camera loves and the required acting skills to pull off the role of a young man whose near poverty status at home convinces him to dabble with some very circumspect chums who usher him into a life of crime by exploiting his own gymnastic skills. For Miro and his buddy are athletic and boisterous youths who can seemingly scale blank walls with the agility of a spider. They use their street smart skills to enter office buildings from the skylights and perfect their art of breaking and entering (!) to make off with all sorts of fabulous new technological toys that belong to Jude’s business.

Once Jude’s offices begin to get broken into, there is no let up. For their line of work necessitates a steady stream of computers, laptops and plasma screens to demonstrate their plans to gentrify the Kings Cross area with an ultra modern structure that they hope will revive the local economy. Throw into the mix, a police detective played convincingly by that scene stealer Ray Winstone and a saucy prostitute with a knack for insinuating herself into the lives of others, played with a terrific sense of guile and playfulness by our beloved Vera Farmiga and you have the acting talent to smooth out the more lumpier aspects of the plot. (Sidenote: Winstone and Farmiga are to be seen in far better and even more complicated material in Martin Scorsese’s gangster comedy epic, “The Departed” which returns to theatres this weekend on the heels of its five Oscar nominationsgo see it now!)

And speaking of lumpy aspects, there are many. We understand perfectly well how the two sets of families are meant to mirror each other. What we remain less than convinced about is the impetus that drives Jude’s character to begin a tryst with Amira that can obviously only end badly considering her son’s involvement in the crimes. This is an affair that seems to benefit nobody but Jude’s cock. Which we have no problem with in theory, but think it is a bit much to hang a movie on. Take that for what you will.

The scenes that work well are handled imaginatively by Mr. Minghella. After a couple of break-ins, Jude begins to monitor his office from the safety of his parked car. A location that beckons Vera Farmiga from the dark streets, assuming he is on the prowl for some quick relief. As the nightwatchman routine extends into a few days, the begin to develop a quasi friendship that hinges on her being able to keep warm while on the lookout for fresh Johns, and his being supplied with coffee as a method of payment. One night as they sit bickering about the nature of their relationship, young Miro is at a distance scaling down the buildings façade. Minghella gets the shot spot on; with a nice combination of sight gag and mounting tension as we wonder if Miro will get away with it again as the two sit quarreling.

We also loved the way Mr. Minghella handled the trickiest scene. For once Jude and Juliette begin their affair and she becomes fully aware of his connection to her son, the lengths she will go to in order to safeguard her family is fairly shocking. It is handled with a dashing bit of camera work and a sterling reaction shot from Mademoiselle Binoche.

Would that the rest of the film could juggle the disjointed storylines and clumsy dialogue with equal panache. With the exception of those two scenes, we felt the film was lovely to look at, but lacked a sense of visual storytelling that Mr. Minghella is clearly capable of. And while we can stand back and admire the very fine acting throughout the film, we are never that invested in the characters lives to be able to swallow the series of events that closes this muddled melodrama. We are positive that Mr. Minghella has many more fine films dwelling within his breast, and perhaps next time he will have the fortitude to stick with his original bright idea for his scenario and learn to trim the excess. Something one could never accuse Lana or ourselves of having committed. Bless you all!

Written & Directed by Anthony Minghella

Jude Law as Will Francis
Juliette Binoche as Amira
Robin Wright Penn as Liv
Martin Freeman as Sandy
Ray Winstone as Bruno
Vera Farmiga as Oana
Rafi Gavron as Miro
Poppy Rogers as Beatrice
Juliet Stevenson as Rosemary
Romi Aboulafia as Orit

Cinematography by Benoît Delhomme
Film Editing by Lisa Gunning
Costume Design by Natalie Ward
Production Design by Alex McDowell
Set Decoration by Anna Pinnock
Original Music by Gabriel Yared, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith



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