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Breaking Down 

Jude Law gets his urban renewal on in a dramatic dud.

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Let's applaud, on principle, Anthony Minghella's return to small-scale storytelling. Breaking and Entering marks his first original screenplay since the oddball romantic comedy Truly, Madly, Deeply (1991) and a retreat from the jumbo period pieces of his Miramax-to-the-max phase.

Overrated as they are, The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Cold Mountain hold up as highfalutin escapist fare, ably scratching the prestige picture itch and obliterating one's craving for the friggin' ginormous. So forgive Minghella for taking a breather, even if Breaking and Entering exhales nothing but hot air. And let us admit that, in truth, Cold Mountain 2 might have made the better movie.

Jude Law plays über-bobo Brit Will Frances, an elite landscape architect with immaculate taste and flawless self-involvement. He is married to Liv (Robin Wright Penn), an inscrutable Swede clenched in depression. Bea (Poppy Rogers), her daughter from a previous marriage, is a basket case of neurosis and cognitive disorders. Divided and conquered by the screenplay's schematic, each retreats into a solipsistic bubble. Will's a workaholic, Liv glares meaninglessly into space, Bea goes ballistic over pretty much everything.

Will escapes to his fabulously chic warehouse studio in the King's Cross district of London, a working-class neighborhood in the midst of gentrification. Vera Farmiga makes an appearance as a local hooker who name-drops Kafka, but the larger problem for property values is a pack of teenage Bosnian thieves who somersault on the rooftops, looking for MacBooks to boost. The contents of Will's office are several times relieved by Miro (Rafi Gavron), a rough-trade angel better suited for a Raf Simons catwalk than breaking-and-entering (or Breaking and Entering) shenanigans.

One night on stakeout, Will catches Miro in the act and tracks him to the home of Amira, a Bosnian refugee who ekes out a living as a seamstress, despite her astonishing acting chops and uncanny resemblance to Juliette Binoche. As the poorest and most foreign of the film's personages, she is naturally the most noble. Torn blazer in hand, our hero comes calling in search of incriminating evidence, but instead commits a crime of the heart. Islands are breached, bubbles burst. There will be breaking -- oh yes -- and entering too. But is Will willing to forgive and forget? Is Amira whoring herself to protect her boy? Will Liv return to the Bergman film she came from? Can Bea please stop flipping out over the chicken dinner? All this and more are revealed as Breaking and Entering heads to a delusional finale, resolving its messy scenario in an act of preposterous altruism.

The problem with Breaking and Entering isn't fundamentally ideological. This isn't the first rich man's fantasy of the working class, nor the most egregious, though it's certainly among the more overwrought. But Minghella falls back on bad habits learned in his early career as a playwright: contrivance, complacency, and a monstrous indulgence in implausible talk. "I love your laugh," Will coos. "I'd love to gather up your laughs and lock them in a box like bees, and nobody would be allowed the key." Yeah man, lock that shit up for real.

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