Imagine if all you ever ate was a steady diet of McDonalds or Burger King and all of a sudden, you had a meal at a really nice restaurant like ‘Panache’ in Newport, Oregon? Your system would probably go into shock.
“Breaking and Entering”, the new film from director Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient”) - well, that just cost the film a number of tickets - is a strange and unusual film. I liked the film, but I’m not sure if I enjoyed the film, because the journey is authentic, painful and believable.
Will (Jude Law) and Sandy (Martin Freeman, the British version of “The Office”) are two architects working on a major urban renewal project in the King’s Cross section of London. The area, best known as a place to get prostitutes and/ or drugs, is unsafe and ready for such a project. Will and Sandy move their offices into a nearby vacant warehouse. As Will and Liv (Robin Wright Penn), his girlfriend of ten years, deal with her behaviorally challenged thirteen year old daughter, Will has to deal with constant burglaries at his new office. One night, he spots Miro (Rafi Gavron) trying to break into the building. He chases Miro to his run down apartment block and watches as he returns home to his mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche), a Bosnian immigrant who makes a living tailoring clothes. Soon, Will ‘meets’ Amira and they begin an affair. And Amira learns Will holds the key to her son’s future. How far will this mother go to protect her son?
“Breaking and Entering” is a very interesting film, but it is almost entirely character driven. This is not a bad thing, but when you consider most of the films we are exposed to be story or action driven, it is a bit of a shock to the system. It takes some adjustment to get used to the mechanics of the film and settle in for the story.
Another problem is the film’s trailer paints the story as a thriller, like a game of cat and mouse occurs during the affair, like Binoche is prepared to dump some boiled rabbits into Penn’s cooking pots. It is nothing like this and a bit misleading to sell the film in this way. But let’s move beyond that misguided effort.
That said, Minghella creates some of the most believable, interesting characters these actors have ever played. It is almost painful to watch them on their journey. Each of the characters makes decisions affecting how their lives will play out, or change and these decisions and actions affect the story. The characters aren’t reacting to the story. They are changing it.
Jude Law’s Will is a complex character and the actor’s best role in a while. Will is absorbed in his work and has been in a relationship for ten years. He seems to be bitter that he and Liv (Penn) have never married and their relationship isn’t easy; her 13 year old daughter doesn’t sleep or eat properly and seems more than a little autistic, but they have been together for so long, they are a family. She is willing to put up with the long work hours because she recognizes he genuinely loves her.
As he deals with the struggles of his home life, and the lack of affection, he also deals with a large project at work, a new office and more. There is a lot of pressure on Will and he feels he can’t turn to Liv, because she has problems of her own.
Then the robberies start at their new office. Sick at losing his personal laptop, with personal photos and documentaries made by Liv, he decides to put a stop to it and stakes out the building at night, determined they will not be robbed a third time.
It would be very easy to make Will one dimensional, but Minghella takes the character to a different place. Because he has so many demands on his life, he recognizes that Miro could get in a lot of trouble. He is also intrigued by Amira and doesn’t turn the boy in. One thing leads to another and they begin an affair. These moments, played in concert with examples of his work and his home life, help create a portrait of an upper middle class man living in a major city.
As the story progresses, and Will makes certain choices, his character controls the destiny of his story and affect the rest of the people in his life. The final moments of the film seem very real and natural. Will makes a decision that seems a good fit for his life and his views.
Law portrays the character well. On the one hand, he is distraught and annoyed with his life. On the other, as much as he is fed up with his life, he has a long history with them and truly loves Liv and her daughter, who frequently calls him Dad. This relationship is interesting, painful and hard to watch. One moment, they are fighting about work hours, or dealing with trust issues or some of the girl’s problems, the next they are in love. The portrayal is all the more interesting because it seems so real and why it is slightly difficult to watch. Because his character has so much going on, so many internal problems, he seems real and lifelike. It almost feels like we are eavesdropping on his life.
Juliette Binoche is also very good as Amira, mother of Miro. As an immigrant to England, she recognizes the country has a lot to offer her son, but she also recognizes the bad influences in his life and watches sadly as these influences seem to take hold. As she struggles with trying to help him take advantage of his new circumstances, and make a life for their family, she also has to deal with her background, her religion and much more.
Binoche does a great job of making Amira believable, there are so many facets to her character she is intensely interesting. She works at a Muslim community center and attends meetings there, but she is also from Bosnia, as you are probably aware, the two don’t work well together. Her husband’s brother also lives in London, and is the primary bad influence on Miro, but as he is a Bosnian, he has a hatred for Muslims and can’t stand his sister-in-law. She knows this and because of his bad influence, doesn’t want him or his son around the house.
It is also interesting to watch Amira do things to try to control the situation. She enters the relationship with Will, because she knows she can control him, to a certain extent, by sleeping with him. Yet, as they have this relationship, we get the sense she is also getting at least some pleasure from the coupling. Can she control her feelings enough to protect her son and her life? Later, she makes a half hearted attempt to black mail Will and this reveals the true extent of her desperation.
Robin Wright Penn plays Liv, Will’s Swedish long-term girlfriend. A supporting character, she has at least as many character traits as Will and Amira. She has a behaviorally challenged daughter, she has been in a long term relationship with Will, fears she may no longer love him, etc. It is a testament to Penn’s and Minghella’s skill that the character has so many different facets, yet seems so natural and lifelike. The role could easily have become as showy as a stage actress working to be heard in the balcony.
Martin Freeman also has some good moments as Sandy, Will’s business partner. During all of the problems with the break-ins, he shyly reveals he is attracted to one of the cleaners who clean the office, a black woman whose photograph has become a screensaver on Sandy’s computer. When suspicion about the robberies shifts in that direction, Sandy is both hurt by suspicion and defends them, trying to walk a fine line. Later, the depth of the working and personal relationship between the two men is revealed.
Ray Winstone plays the lead detective investigating the case. He quickly has his suspicions about who the culprit is and finds Miro playing soccer in a park. He beckons the kid, who grudgingly hops on the back of his scooter and drives to a nearby park where they talk. As they talk, you get the sense Winstone’s character probably had a similar childhood. He wants to help the kid change his ways. Improve his life.
Vera Farmiga (“The Departed”, “Running Scared”) plays a prostitute with a heavy accent who frequents the area around their new office. She and Will start a casual conversation and she begins to keep him company as he stakes out his office, using his car to keep her warm for a few hours, bringing him coffee, between tricks. Her character is, by far, the least successful in the film. She almost seems designed to provide comic relief and every time she appears on screen it draws you completely out of the universe Minghella has tried so hard to create. Late in the story, she does something which seems completely out of character.
Minghella has created a film with such emotional performances, it is almost difficult to watch. I go to a lot of films and even I was not prepared, it is so different from the majority of the films I go to see and will surely turn many people off. I think this is why many people either love or loathe “The English Patient”; the two films are very similar and present characters in realistic, natural ways. His characters drive the stories, not the other way around.
When you are so used to the other type of film – story or event driven narratives – it is a bit of a shock to the system to actually experience a difference. It is a bit like how your body would react to eating at a fine restaurant after a steady diet of McDonalds.