- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

“Breaking and Entering” is as messy and, at times, as rambling — as the lives and the city it so realistically explores.

Writer-director Anthony Minghella is best known for his acclaimed romantic epics “The English Patient” and “Cold Mountain.” “Breaking and Entering” sees him returning to the type of small romantic drama he started his career with, in 1991’s “Truly Madly Deeply.” It also features his first original screenplay since then.

“Breaking” is an epic writ small. The setting is intimate, but the themes bear a close resemblance to those of “The English Patient.” Here again, Mr. Minghella reminds us, the borders on our maps can create borders around our hearts.

Jude Law (“Cold Mountain”) stars as Will, a London architect who’s watching his relationship with his Swedish live-in girlfriend, Liv (Robin Wright Penn), drift away. Liv’s daughter from a previous marriage, the 13-year-old Bea (Poppy Rogers), is mildly autistic, bringing more conflict into this unconventional family unit.

Will has just moved his firm’s offices to the slowly gentrifying area of King’s Cross. It’s a show of support for his own ideas; his firm wants to transform the area, adding green space and imaginative buildings to the run-down neighborhood. He may have made a bad bet. Almost immediately, his offices are broken into, his laptop and other equipment stolen — twice.

Desperately searching for control over something, Will becomes obsessed with finding the thieves. He stakes out his office, with help from a feisty Russian prostitute (Vera Farmiga, “The Departed”) who warms up in Will’s Land Rover. He soon catches the thieves in the act, and follows one home (Rafi Gavron in his debut). He’s just a boy, though, and Will doesn’t have the heart to call the police. Instead, he satisfies his curiosity about another side of London, and embarks on an affair with the boy’s mother, a Bosnian refugee named Amira (Juliette Binoche, who starred in “The English Patient”).

Amira could be the English Patient when she declares, “Names in my country are like flags. People live or die because of their names.” Will may be too wrapped up in his own pain to recognize hers.

“Breaking and Entering” is a deep and funny film, with pitch-perfect performances all around. One often forgets how humorous Mr. Minghella can be; even an emotional drama like “The English Patient” had plenty of wit.

Miss Farmiga, completely transforming herself, provides much of the comic relief here, but not all. When she tries to get serious with Will, he retorts, “They’re putting fortune cookies in with the crack now?”

Her character is the most unlikely element of the story. The rest plays out quite like life, with many quiet moments interspersed with the arguments. A loud family scene, with everyone talking over everyone else, reminds us of how utterly scripted most films are, with each character always allowing the others their say. That’s not how we, the living, fight.

Mr. Minghella’s literate film is bursting with a generosity of spirit at the end. His hope makes you want to forgive the film’s flaws: It’s overstuffed with characters and theses, sometimes making it feel like a hodgepodge of ideas.

But then, so is the London, in place of a cinematic desert, that Mr. Minghella caresses so lovingly with his camera.

***

TITLE: “Breaking and Entering”

RATING: R (sexuality and language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Anthony Minghella

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

WEB SITE: www.bvimovies.com/

breakingandentering

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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