When it comes to muddling things, credit writer-director Anthony Minghella with doing it agreeably. “Breaking and Entering,” his mishmash of social statement, romance, personal crisis and criminal and emotional theft, is so thematically full and atmospherically vibrant that, until the story collapses in the late innings, it’s easy to overlook its lack of clarity and pith.
Minghella has been both overrated and underappreciated since his golden debut, “Truly Madly Deeply.” “The English Patient” paled next to Oscar loser “Fargo,” and “Cold Mountain” wasn’t exactly devastating, but his flair for storytelling and his civility chromosome have made him more than just another overseas talent rendered vapid by Hollywood. “Breaking and Entering” benefits somewhat from those qualities, but it can’t overcome an increasingly woozy script — Minghella’s first original screenplay since “Truly.”
Will (Jude Law), a landscape architect, lives in an upscale London neighborhood with his girlfriend, Liv (Robin Wright Penn), whose extreme focus on her autistic daughter (Poppy Rogers) has distanced Will. Businesswise, Will and his partner have relocated to rugged King’s Cross, which they’re beautifying with green space. Their snazzy digs attract thieves, including Miro (Rafi Gavron), the teen son of Bosnian refugee Amira (Juliette Binoche), to whom Will feels drawn. The two have an affair, but after Amira realizes that Will, having entered her life falsely, has stolen her heart, things get nasty.
With its thoughtful presentation of issues ranging from gentrification to mother-child relations, and the parallel scenarios Minghella creates (both women have acrobatically inclined troubled kids, for instance), the film’s surely intriguing. And multicultural, changing London is a vital backdrop, and the undervalued potential of immigrants becomes a smart subject, in Minghella’s hands. Also distinguishing the film are the elements of forgiveness shaping events. While these may require extra disbelief suspension, there’s something genuine happening.
Yet, largely speaking, the movie lacks a point, a thrust, character definition and cohesiveness. It’s never clear what Minghella is trying to say or what Will is seeking. Amira, thanks to Binoche, is a riveting mix of warmth and wariness, but Law’s Will isn’t interesting enough to warrant center-stage treatment and Wright Penn is stuck with a hazy character whose behavior in the meandering final act is bewildering.
The result is little more than engaging hodgepodge, all totaled.
The cast also includes Ray Winstone, playing a benevolent cop, and Vera Farmiga as an opinionated prostitute. Neither belongs here, but both are entertaining.
Breaking and Entering **½
Starring Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn, Rafi Gavron
Written and directed by Anthony Minghella
Running time 1 hour, 59 minutes