You'd think life would look pretty good glimpsed through the windshield of a gleaming Range Rover.
But wealth, beauty and a posh London townhouse have done little to minimize the misery of alienated lovers Will (Jude Law) and Liv (Robin Wright Penn).
Despite an urban landscape populated by impoverished Bosnian refugees, Eastern European crime syndicates and back-alley hookers, Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering affirms that it's Liv and Will who have it bad in this hand-wringing chronicle of angst-filled yuppies.
Minghella has found success adapting the work of respected novelists, such as Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient. But Minghella's screenplay for this narrative car commercial (his first original script since his 1991 debut Truly Madly Deeply) seems impaired and directionless. Breaking and Entering is as stumped as its protagonists in accounting for their empty, unhappy lives.
Enter the socioeconomic wake-up call.
Having moved into a sleek new office in dodgy King's Cross, architect Will and his business partner, Sandy (Martin Freeman), are made aware that they are the visible haves in an urban enclave of have-nots. While Will yearns to gentrify the blighted area, the locals prefer to have their lives improved by hawking his laptops for cash.
A team of Bosnian crooks -- who practice the urban street acrobatics of parkour -- leap and catapult into Will and Sandy's warehouse offices to rob the couple. The misguided do-goodism of naive lefties such as Will and Sandy is an idea worth pursuing, but one that butterfingered Minghella mostly bungles in his larger interest in validating uppercrust angst.
When their office is burgled for the second time, Will begins to moonlight as a sleuth and waits outside his offices for the thieves to make a return appearance. In the process, he befriends an Eastern European prostitute (indie queen Vera Farmiga, recently of The Departed) servicing clients in a nearby alley.
Will eventually busts up a robbery in progress and chases one of the young crooks, Miro (Rafi Gavron), to the door of Miro's seamstress mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche). Will begins a surreptitious sexual relationship with this sad, beautiful woman, a Bosnian refugee having a hard time acclimating to her new world. But Minghella's Achilles' heel is in reinforcing stereotypes as much as he pleas for the barriers between people to fall down. The director sets up a rather crude juxtaposition between passionate Amira and Will's icy, half-Swedish girlfriend, Liv.
The socially conscious European art-house cinema of director Michael Haneke (Cache) is an obvious influence on Breaking and Entering. But Minghella takes Haneke's gravitas and transforms it into the brand of sorrowful yuppie chow and shallow treatment of alienation favored by angsty Hollywood melodramas such as Crash.
What a different film Breaking and Entering might have been if instead of focusing on Will's sexcapades, Minghella had imagined Liv's horrible grind having given up her career to care for her young, disabled daughter. But Penn's mopey performance and an underwritten role simply don't render Liv's alienation in believably human terms.
Though his portrait of yuppie pain may test viewers' patience, Minghella has scored big in his use of Benoît Delhomme's exquisitely frigid, silvery cinematography to convey a sense of dread and ordinary misery to the proceedings. Minghella is also adept at using London as an emotionally arresting landscape, filled with dystopian public-housing blocks, tumultuous working-class neighborhoods and artful yuppie hideaways from the city's chaos. Architecture is not only Will's vocation, it is the fixation against which the drama plays out.
But the riddle of Breaking and Entering is the sphinx that befuddles and damns so many others in the cinema of modern ennui.
Why, when we all know so well the anxiety-inducing state of post-millennial life, is it such a bitch to render that life on screen without descending into the whininess of the privileged class measuring its own petty misery against ethnic cleansing and urban poverty?
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