Brokedown Brits

Bea, one of the characters in “Breaking and Entering,” doesn’t understand the concept of metaphors. She should consider herself lucky, because her world is filled with some real clunky ones – not to mention all the awkward similes and inept analogies. Director and writer Anthony Minghella (“Cold Mountain”) is making a statement about communication in his film, and from the loaded title on down, he won’t stop hitting us over the head with it.

Jude Law (“All the King’s Men”) plays another wealthy, weepy cheat. This time the guy is Will Francis, an urban planner tied up in a 10-year non-marriage to half-Swedish Liv (Robin Wright Penn, “Empire Falls”). The couple is growing inexorably apart; Liv’s depression has exacerbated the problem. Bea (Poppy Rogers), her daughter, might be autistic – in addition to her language troubles, she’s an obsessive gymnast who never sleeps and can’t stand certain colors.

Will, understandably, spends most of his time at work. His company, GreenEffect, is designing an ambitious revitalization project in London’s seedy King’s Cross neighborhood. Putting his money where his mouth is, he has the firm set up shop there – only to come under siege from not-yet revitalized neighbors. The night after the launch party, all of GreenEffect’s fancy Apple products are stolen; they replace them and it happens again.

The most dexterous thief is teenage Miro (Rafi Gavron). Himself a budding architect, Miro is decent enough to leave Will a CD of the pictures that were on his laptop during the first raid on his second trip.

Unsatisfied by police efforts, Will decides to stake out the office. He chases Miro back to his apartment, but he’s too taken with the kid’s sexy mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche, “Bee Season”) to bother reporting the discovery. He quickly stumbles from his nicely furnished nightmare into an exotic affair (Muslim Amira’s Serbian husband died in the war in Bosnia).

This culture clash is promising, but Minghella doesn’t trust the audience to seek out the fault lines on its own. No idea is left unarticulated, and the dialogue is as false and self-conscious as the characters. A cleaning woman (Caroline Chikezie) describes the police’s investigation as “like Kafka.” A Russian prostitute (Vera Farmiga) who hangs out in Will’s car when he’s patrolling, says out of nowhere, “Humans. We talk. Why?” Well, not like that we don’t.

Later, her nuggets of street wisdom dispensed, the prostitute drops out of the film. Amira’s troubled life, similarly, serves only as a catalyst to jolt Will out of his profound self-absorption. In this would-be paean to multiculturalism, the immigrants are just there to produce a little bit of liberal guilt without being, you know, an annoyance.

“Breaking and Entering” is nicely shot and nicely acted, but neither is enough to compensate for its overall dullness. As a visual view of London, it’s captivating; as an intellectual view, it’s a mess. Like Will, Minghella understands buildings much better than people.

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