February 15, 2007

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Breaking and Entering (R)
Anthony Minghella knows how to suck the life out of a story and proves this again with Breaking and Entering, a moody little drama about the way well-lit actors playing ennui-burdened Londoners can change the courses of each other’s lives.

Oh, heavy sigh.

There are people in this world who think The English Patient (a Minghella film from 1996) was the essence of romance. There are people who think The English Patient could have chopped an hour from its precious two-hour-and-40-minute running time and still been too damn long. If you are part of the latter group, Breaking and Entering will twist at your nerves with its limp nothingness and make you want to shout at the screen (might I suggest “Speak up!” or “Do something!”). If you are part of the former group, well, hell, might as well see this movie — Juliet Binoche could make damn near anything watchable.

Binoche, who plays Amira, a refugee from Sarajevo, doesn’t appear until a while into the film. We start our quiet journey with Will (Jude Law), an architect of sorts who is trying to gentrify a seedy part of London. He and his partner Sandy (Martin Freeman) have beautiful plans for Kings Crossing but making them a reality could be difficult, what with their office regularly a target of break-ins. They buy new computers, get broken into, get replacement computers, get broken into — while the cleaning staff is under suspicion for the burglaries, it doesn’t seem to occur to Will and Sandy that the guy delivering computers might be in on it. He’s passed the information of the new shipments on to a group of Serbian hoodlums who rely on Miro (Rafi Gavron), a flexible lad, to swing and climb his way up to the roof and shimmy in through a skylight.

As a reward for all this good B&E work, Miro gets a laptop computer, one that he has to hide from his mom Amira, a tailor, and one that introduces him to its previous owner, Will.

On the laptop, Miro sees Will, Will’s long-time girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and Liv’s daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers), the high-strung daughter that Will has more or less raised with Liv since Bea’s toddlerhood. And yet Bea has problems, autism maybe, that wear on Liv (who has given up her job to care for Bea) and wear on the relationship between Liv and Will. Understandable, though it isn’t just Bea that’s getting Liv down, Liv is just down — she sits in front of a sunbox hoping to keep depression at bay.

Will wants something — to marry Liv maybe or to leave her. He uses the burglaries as an excuse to stake out his office building and befriends Ona (Vera Farmiga), an Eastern European prostitute. Will seems to be teasing himself with the idea of infidelity with Ona but when he finally sees Miro attempt another break-in, an eventual glimpse at Amira has him considering her.

At first he just takes some tailoring to her, as a pretext to see where the boy lives and possibly as a way of considering turning him in. But slowly and for reasons not terribly clear to him, Will finds himself drawn to Amira.

“Slowly and for reasons not terribly clear” is a good description of the movie as a whole. It has thoughts about love, relationships, family, class, survival and fidelity. But, as in a conversation had just before falling asleep, ideas are half-formed and sentences drift off unfinished. Life is unsatisfying for these characters for a variety of reasons but the story seems so unsatisfied with them that we brush by major themes. It’s as though Minghella, having presented us with a sad Robin Wright Penn, just shrugs and moves on.

This listlessness is too bad because the movie collects a cast of strong actors. Ray Winstone has a role that seems, at first, like a throwaway part as a savvier-than-expected detective. It’s a good part and he plays it well but it is indifferently written into the story.

Breaking and Entering seems to have tried for subtle, cool, nuanced storytelling and in the process fallen completely asleep. C

Rated R for sexuality and language. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella, Breaking and Entering is two hours long and is distributed in limited release by The Weinstein Company. It is currently playing in Cambridge and Waltham.