Cinema Signal:

London's Underworld:
Three Centuries of Vice and Crime
by Fergus Linnane

. "Breaking and Entering"

Prepare yourself for a movie with more emotional swings than a playground, where the "breaking" part of the title refers as much to the concept of relationships breaking apart as the criminal application of breaking in. From the mind of writer-director Anthony Minghella ("Cold Mountain," "The Talented Mr. Ripley") comes a dramatic synthesis between strained families and a strain of crime.

Will (Jude Law with the same 2 credits) is a landscape architect who, with partner Sandy (Martin Freeman) is in the process of designing a major change in part of London's landscape. They have set their company up in a warehouse in King's Cross, a crime-ridden part of the city, the beat of druggies and prostitutes. Their high tech offices and workspace has become the target of a clever criminal ring whose members include boys who are particularly acrobatic and athletic, allowing one of them, primarily Miro (Rafi Gavron), to scale the building with ease, spy on the alarm encoder, break in, and slide down the support beams swiftly enough to disarm the alarm. Then, opening the front door for the balance of the Bosnian gang to enter, he joins in wiping out the place.

The main items of interest are computers and flat screen TVs but Miro swipes small figurines during the first raid. The boss of the gang, a hardened criminal from the Bosnian underground, as well as Miro's uncle and role model, is delighted with Miro's work and rewards him with one of the laptops taken, turning out to be Will's -- family pictures and all.

Now, Will is having severe relationship problems with his girlfriend of 10 years but not wife because of her reluctance to make it binding, Swedish Liv (Robin Wright Penn). Her 13-year old daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers) by marriage to another man is (purportedly) autistic. Though there's a certain amount of love and interdependence between the two, a certain emotional distance threatens the wholeness of the household.

After two break-ins, Will sits guard at night in his car. During his vigil, the appearance of local prostitute Oana (Vera Farmiga, "The Manchurian Candidate," "Touching Evil" BBC-TV) breaks up the boredom of the job. She's aggressive about selling him sex, can't understand why he just wants to talk, and a kind of habiutees-of-the-night friendship develops. Until, that is, the night when they have a disagreement about her wanting money just prior to Will spotting Miro attempting to break in again (purely a contrived bit of plotting). When he chases the young hoodlum, Oana steals Will's car as the payment she was seeking.

Will's chase ends at Miro's mother's flat, where the aforementioned plot takes a novel twist. Will's outrage doesn't lead to a police procedural or courtroom drama -- not even close. Will, recognizing Miro's mother as Amira (Juliette Binoche) a lady he'd seen in the neighborhood. Turns out she's a seamstress and he brings her garments for repair, leading to twists and turns that only an original mind immersed in issues of romance and individual character could have conceived.

Small wonder that Minghella, after working with Law on "...Ripley,"( one of my favorite films), would want him for this, which turns out to be an excellent choice, though Law's manner of parsing every phrase and every syllable until he has control over every moment or consideration is becoming a bit over-familiar. Perhaps if he knew we were getting wise to his imperturbable Brit he'd be inclined to cut down his schedule to one or two choice roles per year. But he plays romantic confusion from a super-astute persective as well as anyone around.

He's matched by a similarly gifted ensemble which treats Minghellas' kind of complexity in theme and structure with all fires burning. Penn turns in what is probably her fullest role in years even though it's a rather blank slate; and Binoche demonstrates some of the fineness of her presence in a seriously emotional context. Ray Winstone as the London copper is a bit of a caricature by now, but his part is written sparingly enough for us to appreciate his hard-nose, soft-heart contribution. Cast this man with care.

Gavron is at his best when he's jumping fences and girders but attractive as an emerging actor. In young Rogers, I see an actress perhaps trying to play autistic but lacking the understanding or directorial guidance to do so.

Farmiga's in-your-lap street prostitute is a splashy crowd-pleaser with rather vivid qualities of humor and daring. She engages us with as much cathartic comic coloration as sensuality. And, that part of her anatomical makeup is so nicely revealed.

But Minghella, always a bracingly interesting writer, raises issues this film may not be providing appropriate answers for... or, less than acceptable ones. One questions the justice, which makes for warmer drama, no doubt, than real world resolution and could be taken as a cop-out (no pun intended). But as always, he drains his issues of unique romance and provides a provocatively nourishing meal of human dilemma. The originality of acrobatic thievery is icing on the entertainment cake.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  
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