The possible upsides of lying and being burglarized are among the numerous topics held up to the light for close examination in "Breaking and Entering." Anthony Minghella's film is conspicuously thoughtful and civilized as it provides a close-up snapshot of particular aspects of life in London at this moment.

The possible upsides of lying and being burglarized are among the numerous topics held up to the light for close examination in “Breaking and Entering.” Anthony Minghella’s film is conspicuously thoughtful and civilized as it provides a close-up snapshot of particular aspects of life in London at this moment. Entirely respectable in every way, it nonetheless has a very cool body temperature and thus likely will inspire polite admiration rather than excitement among viewers, which looks to limit how far it will go — at least in North America — to relatively upscale situations.

After big international productions “The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain,” this is the first time Minghella has worked from his own original screenplay since his debut film, “Truly, Madly, Deeply.” It’s very much the picture of a writer taking stock of the society and city in which he lives, sorting things out in his own mind in a way that will prove intellectually engaging and meaningful for an audience.

The public that will respond to his musings is mostly the same one that reads books and attends serious theater, the gentrification class that is now gingerly moving into the film’s very specific setting, the dicey but quickly changing King’s Cross area in North London. King’s Cross Station is known to the world as the embarkation point of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express, but the real neighborhood surrounding it has long teemed with immigrants and criminals.

The face of King’s Cross is now being altered by England’s biggest urban renewal project, and characters very much like Will Francis (Jude Law) who, with partner Sandy (Martin Freeman), has opened a high-end landscape architecture office in the area. In short order, the building is broken into not once but twice and robbed of all its high-tech equipment. Laying in wait at night for the intruder to strike yet again, Will sees him and chases him far enough to know what flat he has run into.

Will is most annoyed at the fact that his “whole life” is on his stolen laptop. That life consists of a well-appointed but trying home life with girlfriend Liv (Robin Wright Penn), a Scandinavian woman with a 13-year-old daughter, Bea (Poppy Rogers), who doesn’t eat or sleep and compulsively practices gymnastics day and night. This situation deeply concerns Liv, a depressive herself whose therapy sessions with Will cast light on the deficiencies in their relationship.

The gradually unfolding story has Will making the acquaintance of the young burglar’s attractive mother, Amira (Juliette Binoche), a Bosnian refugee and tailor to whose flat he brings some clothes for repair. Will says nothing of the crimes, but verifies the guilt of Amira’s son by finding his stuff in the kid’s room. In turn, the 15-year-old son, Miro (Rafi Gavron), finds the business card Will has left at the flat and now knows the game is up.

With things slowly atrophying at home with Liv, Will draws closer to Amira and rashly instigates an affair, prompting unsettling feelings. Amira, who would like to return to Sarajevo where her husband died, is vulnerable on every level.

What happens thereon involves several curious turns of emotions and justice, of both the legal and ethical varieties, leading to an almost startlingly upbeat and resolved result for all concerned. As such, this is one of the optimistic contemporary dramas of recent times. Or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking.

Pic is absorbing, but in a decidedly low-key way. Partly this stems from Law’s character, who is polite and imperturbable to a fault. As he at one point remarks, “I tidy up,” a phrase that could be applied to his function with his family, Amira and her son, his office and the neighborhood. But one seldom really knows what’s going on inside him, which is a problem when he begins spending time with Amira. Law’s reading of Will is credible but lacks force, which may or may not be intentional.

Even more inscrutable is Liv, who suffers from “Scandinavian spells.” A frustrated Will asks her point-blank what she wants, and it’s impossible to know the answer; as good an actress as she is, Wright Penn can’t clarify it. A related problem is her daughter, whose condition is so weird one can’t get a handle on what to make of it.

Binoche, physically unchanged as ever, plays Amira’s controlled anguish with skill, and Gavron is a very good-looking kid with presence. Vera Farmiga has a high old time in her brief role as an Eastern European hooker who would like to make a client out of Will.

Benoit Delhomme’s lensing has an understated elegance, and Lisa Gunning’s supple editing and Gabriel Yared and Underworld’s score is frequently working to achieve emotional turbulence and counterpoint.

Breaking and Entering

U.K.

Production

An MGM release (in U.S.) of a Weinstein Co. and Miramax Films presentation of a Mirage Enterprises production. (International sales: Miramax Films/BVI, New York/Burbank.) Produced by Sydney Pollack, Anthony Minghella, Timothy Bricknell. Executive producers, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Colin Vaines. Directed, written by Anthony Minghella.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Benoit Delhomme; editor, Lisa Gunning; music, Gabriel Yared and Underworld; music supervisor, Mike Gillespie; production designer, Alex McDowell; art director, Andy Nicholson; set decorator, Anna Pinnock; costume designer, Natalie Ward; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Jim Greenhorn; supervising sound editor, Eddy Joseph; line producer, Anita Overland; associate producer-assistant director, Steve E. Andrews; second unit director, Timothy Bricknell; second unit camera, Simon Finney; casting, Michelle Guish, Gaby Kester. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala), Sept. 13, 2006. Running time: 116 MIN.

With

Will Francis - Jude Law Amira - Juliette Binoche Liv - Robin Wright Penn Sandy - Martin Freeman Bruno Fella - Ray Winstone Oana - Vera Farmiga Miro - Rafi Gavron Bea - Poppy Rogers Rosemary - Juliet Stevenson
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