Anthony Minghella is on the verge of very thoughtful, observant drama with Breaking and Entering. Atmospheric yet perhaps too ambitious, the director fashions a contemporary London-based picture starring Jude Law and Juliette Binoche, both featured in his acclaimed period efforts, The English Patient and Cold Mountain, respectively.
Kings Cross is where Law's Will and Martin Freeman's partner Sandy have begun a new environmentally sound architectural firm, developing a warehouse into trendy office space. But, a gang of teens, including athletic Miro (newcomer Rafi Gavron), find it ripe for the taking of equipment, including an Apple computer.
Break-ins become a pleasant diversion for Will whose early voice-over underlines losing touch with his longtime Swedish-American girlfriend, Liv (Robin Wright-Penn). Liv has prioritized her autistic gymnastic-loving daughter (Poppy Rogers) over her documentary work.
Will's life changes quickly after following Miro home and becoming very friendly with his mother, Amira, a widowed Bosnian seamstress refugee, compellingly acted by Binoche.
From the thematic elements and the branched-out narrative it's hard not to think of similar happenstance films like Crash or Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things. Denizens of varying socio-economic, racial backgrounds in London are connected with metaphorical implications when it comes to the good and bad sides of people, as well as their hopes and fears.
Law is more opaque and self-absorbed here as the flawed protagonist and fares better with Binoche, as the conflict with the distanced Liv, done with less expressive misery by Wright-Penn. Binoche's affecting portrayal of Amira helps the contrived melodrama go down easier, even as one speculates about the nature of whether this relationship was viable from the outset.
As Minghella earnestly works to eschew stereotyping, the personal troubles do come on with a certain hackneyed symbolism. He conspicuously touches on autism, immigration, and architecture around these random experiences that ultimately lead to a hopeful, if unlikely high point.
Breaking and Entering is a case and point of the parts exceeding the whole as some nuances never take hold, like the melting pot of nationalities in the midst of human alienation. Still, some of the characters standout besides Gavron's sympathetic debut as a thief influenced by his imperious Serbian uncle. Vera Farmiga (The Departed) is effective as a talkative hooker entrusted by Will and Ray Winstone (also in The Departed) is good as a well-intentioned detective. Best of all may be Freeman as the opinionated Sandy who probably could have had an involving story built around his character, rather than what is attracted to Will, less cathartic and gripping, like the effects of the Balkan conflict.