And it’s here that Breaking & Entering fails. The talented cast and well-written dialogue make the characters seem realistic, but too often they behave in a convenient or flat out illogical manner. Why wouldn’t Will report Miro as soon as he found out where he lived? Why would a conservative architect befriend a prostitute (played with panache by Vera Farmiga), only to have her steal his car? Why would she then return it, untouched, a few days later? The film is littered with these mysteries, none of which add anything to the plot except implausibility.
Then there is the clumsy undertone of the new class struggle playing out in London, and the first world in general. Instead of rich versus poor, now we have invisible immigrants versus a complacent middle class. But even here Minghella seems to have very little to say except “there is a struggle”. He could have allowed the conflict between the characters to escalate - probably the most logical (not to mention dramatic) path – but instead he short-circuits the tragedy in favour of a farfetched resolution.
Our disappointment might have been salved by some sentiment or even a little humour, but the film remains stubbornly sulky and self-absorbed throughout. Minghella has never been at home with levity, preferring more dramatic (or melodramatic) modes, but his work has never missed a sense of irony more keenly.
However frustrating it may be, Breaking & Entering can’t be dismissed entirely. The excellent cast make the most of the material, giving understated and nuanced performances, and the film has many flashes of human truth. Minghella’s visual style has always been a little dressy and self-conscious, but at least his films are always interesting to look at.
In the end, though, the film has to be judged a failure. Had an unknown young writer/director made Breaking & Entering, critics would undoubtedly have applauded such promising work. But this is an Oscar-winning director and Oscar-nominated writer. We are entitled to expect more than a slew of half digested ideas and amateur sociology.
- Alistair Fairweather
Anthony Minghella wowed the world with The English Patient and Cold Mountain, but his sulky new film never lives up to its promise.
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