Robin Wright Penn
After a brace of literary adaptations set in far flung locations, with Breaking and Entering Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella returns to his own writing and his home city of London for the first time since his feature debut Truly, Madly, Deeply.
His leading man, for the third time, is Jude Law. He plays Will, a trendy landscape architect with a newly-relocated office in London's regenerating King's Cross, charged with transforming the area beyond recognition. Shortly after the state-of-the-art workspace opens for business it becomes a repeated target for thieves. The police proving to be of little use, Will takes to staking out his workplace by night and, episodically, he comes into contact with people the existence of whom his regeneration project did not initially acknowledge.
One night, Will chases one of the young burglars, Miro (Rafi Gavron), back to the estate flat he shares with his Bosnian refugee mother Amira (Juliette Binoche), who he befriends under false pretences to further investigate the burglaries. Amira discovers that her son robbed her new suitor's office, and that Will is married - to fretful Swede Liv (Robin Wright Penn), with whom he has an autistic daughter, Bea (Poppy Roger), whose condition makes her fond of nocturnal gymnastics.
The casting of Wright Penn and Binoche typify the two strata of London Minghella chooses to focus on. Blonde Liv is dressed in white and earthen, fair trade shades, in a well-to-do house in a leafy part of north London that seems more like a hospital than a home. Brunette Amira crams her few sticks of furniture and her tearaway son into a grim concrete place from where she ekes out a living as a seamstress. Each lives just a couple of miles from the other.
Will's workplace partner Sandy (Martin Freeman) epitomises the character traits we might have expected of a burglary victim - venting sentiments on what he'd care to do with the burglars. Will chooses to hold back, weighing up the best options for himself and everyone else involved, but his lack of passion as a character makes him awkward no matter who surrounds him.
Law balances the character nicely. Will is intelligent as well as ambitious, and while his crushing home life makes him seek out something else, he tries to reconcile the various aspects of his life so nobody suffers. He realises that Liv's moodswings are at least partly caused by her daughter's condition, and while he finds himself shut out of their inner circle, he doesn't fly off the handle about it. His way of dealing with his situation seems to involve balancing the humourless void at home with Amira's passion.
In little more than cameo roles, Ray Winstone as an oddly understanding plod and Vera Farmiga in a star turn as an eastern European lady of the night both create narrative diversions, the former with his almost-mentoring of Miro and the latter with her pseudo-counselling of Will. Both are never less than convincing as nails on which to hang the script's multi-national authenticity.
In Breaking and Entering nothing is ever black and white. The script prefers subtle nuances of human nature to illustrate the plot, rather than dividing characters into goodies and baddies. Will does play away from home. Amira does try to blackmail him. Miro does thieve. Liv would drive anyone to the demon drink. And yet there are always reasons why these things happen. Minghella's conclusion seems to be that, rather as with London, we take the bad with the good when we know people, that nobody - and nowhere - is either perfect or terrible, that everybody and everywhere deserves a chance, an opportunity to live as themselves. The sketchy backstory for Amira and Miro's flight to London is matched by a lack of detail for how Liv came to be in her situation. That we can't know everything about everyone means we should always be prepared to learn.
Minghella again works with Gabriel Yared, his soundtrack composer of choice, to produce a pulsing, urban score that never threatens to break out into a central theme, like The Talented Mr Ripley or The English Patient did. Breaking and Entering is also the second time the director and Binoche have teamed up. And it's a film with its very own homage to its writer-director; Juliet Stevenson, who famously visited a psychiatrist in Truly, Madly, Deeply, here returns in a cameo role - as a psychiatrist.
The resulting movie is a thoughtful depiction of London as it is rarely seen. Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things touched on similar themes - of the repercussion of immigration, of peoples living side by side yet segregated by imbalances of wealth. Like that film, and unlike anything from the pen of Richard Curtis, Breaking and Entering shines a light into London's shadier nooks and crannies and shows a city as a character - far from perfect, but a place worth taking one's time over.