Bathed in browns and tans and coursing with pent-up socioeconomic ponderings, Anthony Minghella
's gentrification hiccup Breaking and Entering joins a rather terminal genre of films that want to have their cake and eat it too. Balancing a fumbling love triangle and a plethora of misconceived notions on class structure, Minghella has confined himself to an intimate story that betrays his often loftier ambitions.
A string of robberies has plagued the ghetto of King's Cross in London. The thievery seems to be centered on an architecture firm that (no surprise) is trying to clean up and reconstruct the famed slum into something more suitable for London's middle-class. Headed by pretty boy Will (Jude Law
) and scruffy Sandy (Martin Freeman
), the company has an internal conflict on whether it was a member of the cleaning staff (that Sandy is sweet on) or outside burglars that committed the crimes. While attempting his own makeshift stakeout, Will spots the young robber and jumps out of his posh SUV to chase him. It leads him to the home of Amira (the luminous Juliette Binoche
), a survivor of the horrors of Bosnia who yearns to return to Sarajevo with her son Miro (Rafi Gavron
), the thief in question.
While he is away from his wife Liv (Robin Wright Penn
) and borderline-autistic stepdaughter Bea (Poppy Rogers
), Will takes coffee with a Russian prostitute (Vera Farmiga
) while warming up for a rather awkward affair with Amira. The affair is about bourgeois guilt and escape for him, but for her it's a way of securing her son from a life in jail and keeping him away from the local coppers, led by the reliable Ray Winstone
Replacing regular cinematographer John Seal, the masterful Benoît Delhomme (The Proposition
, What Time Is It There?) gives this panorama of class and relations an inebriated tone of mystique. That's half the problem: King's Cross has no real sense of danger or of any sort of differentiation of class, visually speaking. Catcalls of "better watch out" or "shouldn’t be wearing those duds round here, mate" become rather pathetic signals of danger when Will chases Miro through the underbelly of the "slum." This also puts a lot of stress on Binoche and Gavron: If their surroundings don’t communicate the class difference, the actors have to. Binoche has become an actress so malleable in her talents and appearance that it's often hard to categorize her. The fit, stressed mom in Michael Haneke's superb Cache has given way to a slightly chubbier, East-European-accented mother hen with drab clothing and a strongly felt love for her son and his future.
Binoche is the heart of the film, and the scenery and mood matches her, ironically, up until Amira and Will's affair begins. The dazed atmosphere of the film becomes gelatinous, giving the class struggle a somewhat hollow resonance. The descents of all the characters (Liv is Scandinavian) becomes a point of order in the film's context but it's never given any sort of importance to offer the narrative a sense of intricacy. Even more so, Sandy's yearning and ultimate disappointment with his lower-class cleaning lady hints at a more developed and poignant representation of bourgeois ethos, but it's never developed past the films first 30 minutes. So, instead, the cultural clash is restricted to pale shades of white, and any sort of challenging critique of modern status and stratum is widely averted. Not quite a misdemeanor, but definitely nothing to celebrate.