Sunday, August 26, 2007

Breaking and Entering: broken

If there was ever a perfect example of why directors should not be allowed to write their own scripts (the Woodster excepted, naturally), Anthony Minghella's Breaking and Entering is it. The script is flabbier than January's first Weight Watchers class, more risible than Republican protests of sexual morality.

The problem is that they will be blind to the faults of their own script and thus fail to excise lines which anyone outside their head would instantly blue-pencil. The most egregious example was Jude Law's character, at a moment of emotional intensity, saying: "Perhaps that's why I love metaphor so much."

This is a line which has never been uttered in history by man or beast because it is unbelievably pretentious, bathetic and meaningless. Who doesn't like a nice metaphor? I think I actually missed the next few lines because I couldn't stop laughing.

It was the absurd icing on a ridiculous cake. The plot involves wimpy Jude Law's architecture practice being aerially broken into by a Serbian gang of teenage acrobats (well, freerunners), whereupon he embarks on an affair with Juliette Binoche, mother of one of the crims, and pushes away his icy girlfriend, Robin Wright Penn, who has an autistic daughter. With me so far? No, I don't care either.

Law appears to have given up any desire to be taken seriously as an actor, instead just looking sheepish, angry and torn (same expressions). He can probably blame the script, which allots him no real character or emotions (or backbone), while Penn is just made a post-Bergman cliché, the distant Scandinavian. The emotional destruction he wreaks - breaking and entering hearts, you see - hardly plays out, so it is left to Binoche to put some meat into her role. When Law says, "I have a dark heart you can't reach" (or some similar wishful thinking), it is impossible to believe.

If you give one person control of both the script and the shooting, almost inevitably they will fail to see - or fail to resolve - problems with either aspect. A scriptwriter given a camera will want to capture his whole opus, while a director will think all his lines are Shakespeare. The tart-with-a-heart east European prostitute who appears is straight off the shelf marked 'urban clichés', while remarks about foxes in urban landscapes are so heavily laboured Minghella must have written them with a chisel.

The freerunning is impressive, especially coming in the grim, forcibly evolving Kings Cross, north London landscape. The thieves do not jump from skyscraper to skyscraper but across gritty council estates and corrugated roofs, allowing Minghella to highlight both the depressed areas where gangs operate and the contrast with the green-free urbanscape Law's character is trying to create. Minghella as a director gets this perfectly. For more concentration on freerunning without a dull plot, try Banlieue 13.

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