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Friday, February 9, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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"Breaking and Entering" | Falling apart by the end

Seattle Times movie critic

Anthony Minghella's "Breaking and Entering" shimmers with good intentions and competency: Its blue/gray palette is elegant and unobtrusive; its cast is uniformly fine with occasional startling moments of brilliance; its story, up until the last half-hour, is intriguing and resonant. Will Francis (Jude Law) is a landscape architect whose posh firm has moved into a dodgy London neighborhood. Taking action after the firm attracts a series of break-ins, he follows a young gang member, Miro (Rafi Gavron), home, and meets the boy's Bosnian immigrant mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche).

Movie review 2.5 stars


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"Breaking and Entering," with Jude Law, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn, Martin Freeman, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella. 119 minutes. Rated R for sensuality and language. Seven Gables.

They form a connection, one which in many ways is an escape from Will's real life: Her messy, dark apartment seems the opposite of the pristine white townhouse that he shares with his girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and her daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers), a troubled and possibly autistic preteen. Drawn to Amira, Will is reluctant to implicate Miro, and their entanglement becomes increasingly complex. Amira is surprised by the lengths to which she will go to protect her son; likewise, Will realizes his own reluctance to change the life to which he's become accustomed.

Law is so often a movie star (he most recently floated effortlessly through "The Holiday") that it's easy to forget that a fine actor lurks behind those blue eyes. His Will is a not-always-likable fellow who nonetheless tries to do the right thing; in a session with one of Bea's doctors, he tries to joke with Liv, but she's not laughing. Struggling with his relationship with Bea — though not her father, he tries to be a father figure to her — he's frustrated when Liv's attention to her daughter takes precedence over him. (Likewise, with Amira, he will find that Miro comes first.) Asked if he's happy, he replies, "Happy enough," in a tone that implies something quite different.

Binoche, who's droopily lovely here (you think of a flower deprived of water), makes something mysterious of Amira; you sense that the character has many more secrets to which we're not privy. Wright Penn is devastating in her portrayal of Liv's pain: Reaching out to try to calm her distraught daughter, her face is set tight, with lines of tension seemingly ironed in. But Liv in particular seems underwritten; she's a beautifully performed character whom we never get a handle on.

Minghella relies heavily on symbols in telling this story of class and alienation, showing us (several times) a fox in a residential London neighborhood, a fish out of water, a broken plate carefully reassembled as if it could be made whole again. Though deliberately paced, the film holds up until its last section, when Minghella seems to write himself into a corner. His characters, all well-meaning, fall back on their own nobility, and the last section of the movie seems to dissolve before our eyes. The marvelously nasty spark of "The Talented Mr. Ripley" or the quiet passion of "Cold Mountain" seem absent here; instead, the film lives in the weary eyes of its characters as they quietly, nobly soldier on.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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