Crash Course 

Relationships are strained and disparate characters collide in Breaking and Entering.

Will (Jude Law) is a workaholic architect whose firm has just opened new offices next to a massive urban-renewal project in a sketchy part of London. Liv (Robin Wright Penn) is Will's longtime girlfriend with a teenaged, possibly mildly autistic daughter, Bea (Poppy Rogers), from a previous relationship. Miro (Rafi Gavron) is a 15-year-old, Bosnian-born scofflaw who breaks into the architect offices to snatch electronics. Amira (Juliette Binoche) is his widowed mother struggling to keep her son in school and out of prison. Throw in an Eastern European hooker (Vera Farmiga) who's into PJ Harvey and you've got Breaking and Entering, the new film from Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella (The English Patient).

Bea obsessively practices gymnastics. Liv obsesses over her daughter's condition and the pronounced disconnect she has with Will. Will obsesses with work, then the break-in, then Amira, once he comes in contact with her. At first view, the film focuses on these relationships and the difficulties each character has finding contentment.

Law again is playing the cad, but this time he brings forward a mix of anger and paralysis at the base of his straying heart. Wright Penn matches Law with her own pain, but neither role is particularly showy. Better still, even though Breaking and Entering is all conflict, it's not oppressive or bleak. Best of all, there's no foolish consistency when it comes to characterizing their relationship: The couple swings from argument to affection to distance, all in the breath of a conversation, and the shifts feel natural.

(As Bruno, the police investigator looking into the robberies, Ray Winstone again effects a sea change whenever he appears onscreen, as he has done a number of times in past films. Is it too late to cast him in everything?)

The film is chockablock full of little symbolisms, such as when a wild fox manages to enter Will's courtyard. Mostly, such devices are allowed to fade into the background and percolate. But the last 20 minutes of the film are marked with a ferocious tidiness where all metaphors are explained. The worst are characters' professions as puns on attributes they possess: Will, an architect, can't build a bridge to Liv; Liv, a non-working documentary filmmaker, won't look at Will; Amira, a seamstress, can mend Will's soul.

When the film works, which it does, on balance, it captures a transitional period in a relationship, a community, a country, a world. Classes, nationalities, ethnicities, accents, and perspectives on -- and from -- the law rub up against each other in this story about a rough part of town (King's Cross, London) getting a shiny new facade from some well-intentioned imperialists. What this transformation means for the future comes out in the wash, and, in the film anyway, the kids are gonna be alright. It's perhaps a conclusion that only a film anxious to leave no loose ends could come to.

"There is a moral to this tale," a character reads in a book of fairy tales. "Jam makes fingers sticky." Would that the film heeded its own mission statement.

Breaking and Entering

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