Stymied in a thorny relationship with his long-term girlfriend, Liv (Robin Wright-Penn), and fathering an autistic daughter, Will (Jude Law) unearths a temporary reprieve from his domestic troubles when the architecture firm he co-owns is broken into by a teen criminal (Ravi Gavron). When Will discovers the boy's identity, he decides not to call the police, but to draw in the culprit by befriending his Bosnian mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche). What begins as cunning revenge soon blossoms into a love affair: Will presenting his aching, lonely heart to Amira, and Amira using this heated moment of infidelity to protect her son.
Writer/director Anthony Minghella treasures his actors. His previous film was the exquisite epic "Cold Mountain," and even in the face of a hefty budget, faraway locations, and a sweeping storyline, Minghella made time for those outstanding moments of communication between the actors and their pure expression of the soul.
"Breaking and Entering" is polar opposite from the bucolic stomping grounds of "Mountain." Minghella has miniaturized the spotlight for his new screenplay, winnowing down the action to the tight frame of a handful of people stuck in lives they have little interest in leading.
There are moments in "Breaking" that are heart-stoppingly perfect in their observance of human beings engaging in games of the heart. Minghella is creating a spider-web of temptation and denial, sending his characters off into trouble just to see how they react and what drama can be squeezed from it. "Breaking" is leisurely, confining, and unbearable in almost every moment, sneaking in under the guise of a straight-up character piece, but flowering into wonderful examples of fallible people trying to come to terms with their frailty.
Minghella doesn't twist the thriller knobs with "Breaking," even when the plotting takes some turns toward faint Hitchcockian overtones. The filmmaker likes the taste of convention, but he won't go near it, preferring to spend time with the actors as they explore the borders of their roles and the bottomless extent of their interaction with each other. Of course, this leads to one or two indulgent actory moments of overkill, but it can be forgiven in a film this strongly written, and with a knockout cast of top Euro and American talent (Ray Winstone, Martin Freeman, and Vera Farmiga co-star).
The director finely threads Will's desperation and attraction to Amira, while also exploring her tragic war-torn past and fears for her criminal, fatherless son. Truthfully, every character gets his or her dance with backstory and none of it ever feels forced or contrived. Minghella adores giving his players room to breathe, and "Breaking" sucks the viewer in tightly with softly observed brittle moments of doubt before the plot whisks them away to the next scene.
While I stand behind "Breaking" as an extraordinary piece of human drama, I will admit the picture falters in the final 10 minutes. The film's personality is lost to a bit of nonsense that's meant to tie up loose ends, but feels like someone simply pulled the plug on the pace and good sense. Even if Minghella can't find a suitable exit, he's created an unexpectedly satisfying journey that rewards the curious viewer searching for depth to their drama, and more delicate touches to their acting.
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