LITTLE ROCK Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering is a handsome but regrettably underpowered and preachy movie about liberal white guilt. It features Jude Law in what's becoming his trademark role as the charmingly flaccid, ethically compromised professional who seems not to know when he's got it good. While we might wish for more - what? moxie? - from Law, the problem doesn't seem to be so much in his portrayal as in the roles themselves; he seems drawn to characters with missing pieces who are not so much wounded as incomplete.
So his portrayal of Will Francis, the yuppie scum do-gooder landscape architect at the center of this soap opera, is probably dead-on; Will doesn't realize he's a heel and Law doesn't judge his character. Law glides through the film because that's what Will would do. The character is so lightweight he's seemingly immune to friction - he can be buffeted by thewind but not ground down.
Will is a dreamer who thoroughly ignores his Swedish-American girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and her 13-yearold autistic daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers), while imagining that he might save the dangerous and grimy North London neighborhood of King's Cross through a grandiose landscaping scheme. Transform the space and you transform the people, Will condescendingly reasons. To this end, he and his business partner have optimistically located their offices in the heart of the mean district.
Their optimism is repaid promptly when someone breaks in and steals their computers. Twice.
Anticipating a third time, Will stakes out the building, which brings him to the attention of a Russian emigre, Oana (Vera Farmiga), who enjoyably schools him in the ways of the street in her carnival gypsy's accent. Will ends up not preventing the third robbery, but he does follow Miro (Rafi Gavron) home to his project flat.
Will returns to the flat in the daylight and finds it belongs to Amira (Juliette Binoche), a Bosnian refugee who supports herself and son Miro by working as a seamstress. Enamored of Amira, whom he has noticed before, Will doesn't confront her but instead brings her some alteration work. Soon he has embarked on an illicit affair with her.
Things almost get interesting here as Binoche - playing drab and peasanty but with more spark than anyone else in the movie - could be seen tobe taking advantage of Will's infatuation with her to shield her son. Or is Will using his power over Amira to coerce her into his bed?
No, it's just that these two people are bored and anxious and semi-attracted to each other (although no real chemistry is evinced onscreen). Whatever Minghella is trying to get at - and his point is never quite clear - the ideas he teases us with seem much more potent. Basically, what we get is a series of scenes that contrast Amira and Miro's desperate (but fairly rich, earthy) lives with Will's privileged ennui.
On the surface, Breaking and Entering is beautifully photographed by Benoit Delhomme, and there are some moments of wit (Will advertising himself from a computer-generated bridge in a PowerPoint presentation) and a credible action sequence with Miro racing over rooftops.
Farmiga and Ray Winstone - as the cop investigating Will's burglaries - provide the best moments, little insights into their characters we receive as grace notes amounting to nothing that propels the story but that signals the fully human presence of their stock characters.
Lovely to look at and selfconsciously intelligent, Breaking and Entering is a well-made film that fails to fully exploit the rich scenario it sets up. There's something tempered and selfcongratulatory about the script - in the end, everyone is so sensible and decent. Maybe a little too sensible and decent.
MovieStyle, Pages 45 on 03/16/2007