From its class warfare premise to the presence of Juliette Binoche, Breaking and Entering plays out like a softer, more cuddly version of Michael Haneke’s Caché, confronting issues of race, equality, guilt, voyeurism, and violence not with Haneke’s hectoring tone but, instead, director Anthony Minghella’s calculated optimism. Landscape architect Will (a skin-deep Jude Law) has just set up shop in London’s seedy King’s Cross—a neighborhood his current development project will transform into a modern, “green” area—when his office is robbed twice by District B13-style acrobat Miro (newcomer Rafi Gabron), the son of Serbian refugee and tailor Amira (Binoche). As Will’s 10-year relationship with depressed Swedish documentarian Liv (Robin Wright Penn) is crumbling due to detachment and their unstable daughter Bea’s (Poppy Rogers) penchant for staying up all night doing gymnastics, the workaholic uses the break-ins as an excuse to stake out his business, which leads him first to befriend an Eastern European whore (a ludicrous Vera Farmiga) and, later, to track Miro to his home. Shortly thereafter, Will seduces Amira, their dueling lies—he knows her son is the thief, she knows that he knows—proving not nearly as problematic for each other as the director’s glibness is to his film’s examination of urban socio-economic divides.
Working from his first self-penned script since 1991’s Truly, Madly, Deeply, Minghella has Ray Winstone’s cop spell out the narrative’s egalitarianism while Will ruminates on the nature of morality. Probing the troubling power dynamics of boss/employee, black/white relationships, or the means by which gentrification affects the lower class, however, holds far less priority for the filmmaker than does redemptive pap, with Will’s transformative realization that ethicality = honesty learned via his affair with Amira, a tryst that amounts to the Englishman preying upon the lonely immigrant’s affections for his own selfish purposes. After Cold Mountain’s slavery-free portrait of the Civil War, the fact that the nattily shot Breaking and Entering attempts to address such racially fraught topics seems like some sort of minor progress, even if the screenplay’s eventual conclusions are of the uncritical, simplistic variety. Still, considering how many storylines are sketchily drawn (does Bea have autism? OCD? Crazy-brain disease?) and/or are ultimately left hanging, it’s amazing how disingenuously tidy the film’s central dilemma is wrapped up: a resolution wherein Will’s self-centered aloofness and exploitation of innocents’ emotions are glossed over so that viewers can leave the theater thinking that personal and national reconciliation—the kind in which rich Caucasians find salvation by helping powerless foreigners—are just a sincere heart-to-heart away.