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Winsor McCay -- The Master Edition

A new DVD offers an opportunity to see films by a master of animation —Andrea Birgers (DVD review...)

Gertie the Dinosaur, born of Winsor McCay

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Rarely does a film take full advantage of the medium to explore thematic depth. Talking heads, filmed conversations, pratfalls, or fiery explosions: these are the sorts of one-dimensional things film is most often used for. Anthony Minghella, though, is a master at texture and depth. Witness The English Patient, which married landscape, flesh, and memory. He does almost the same thing in Breaking & Entering, but with an urban landscape instead of a desert.

King’s Cross is a blighted area of London, and Will (Jude Law) is an architect who has won a contract to redevelop it.

It’s not important to the plot, but in snippets we learn that Will’s architectural plan acknowledges that cities are man-made. Squeezing in grassy areas is hypocrisy; it lets us mistake “green” for nature. His plan embraces the man-made-ness of a city.

For all the right reasons, Will and his partner (Martin Freeman) decide to move their office into King’s Cross, against the advice of well-meaning friends. Sure enough, burglars break into their office twice within the first few minutes of screen time.

Superficially, the story is about Will playing cat-and-mouse with a young thief (Rafi Gavron) who participated in the break-ins. Emotionally, the story is about overcoming temptation. Will is tempted by many things, and he usually gives in. Thematically, the film is a tapestry of ideas about architecture, class, crime, poverty, prejudice, and responsibility, to name a half dozen.

The divide between white-collar, middle-class Londoners and blue-collar denizens is the elephant in the living room. The characters are afraid to address it — even when Will’s partner gets a crush on one of the cleaners, he can’t bring himself to acknowledge the class difference verbally. There is one character, a police officer, who gets to point out the obvious: if one of the architects breaks the law, they hire a good lawyer, whereas the 15-year-old thief will go to jail without passing Go.

Minghella ponders man’s connection to the landscape again, as he did in The English Patient. With a city planner for a brother, I find myself thinking about space and architecture more than I have any right to. This film raises many of those issues I find fascinating, as well as some that I haven’t thought about before.

DVD Extras

Will is tempted by many things, and he usually gives in
Will is tempted by many things, and he usually gives in

By far, the best extra feature on this DVD is Anthony Minghella’s audio commentary. He comes across as very smart, and not just because he has a British accent. All the complexity that makes Breaking & Entering so good was carefully planned. Minghella explains it without sounding too pedantic. He also throws in some interesting tidbits, such as the meaning of the fox, or his contest with Martin Scorsese over the casting of Vera Farmiga. Toward the end of the movie, the commentary starts to sound a little more like a drone, but Minghella is still better than many when it comes to talking about his own movie.

There is also a 13-minute making-of featurette. With as many DVDs as I watch, I’m getting pretty tired of featurettes where the brand-name cast and crew, perfectly lit in front of the movie’s poster, praise each other’s talent and humanity. There is never any substance or spontaneity in these slickly packaged documentaries. They inevitably include lots of gorgeous footage from the movie to trick you into thinking the featurette is also well produced. In the end, you’ve wasted fifteen minutes without learning anything interesting about the movie. These things are empty calories, and the one included on Breaking and Entering is a perfect example.

The deleted scenes are marginally more interesting. They hint at Minghella’s first draft of the movie, which had a longer introduction and introduced the characters more explicitly. But Minghella himself kicks off the deleted scenes by saying that he doesn’t think they add any real value to a DVD. Minghella has final cut, so these scenes were all deleted for a good reason.

Picture and Sound

The movie is presented in glorious widescreen, enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The sound is encoded in dolby digital surround.

How to Use This DVD

The most important thing is simply to see the movie. It doesn’t need any particular explanation. It stands very well on its own. If you want to know more, revisit the movie a couple of nights later and watch it with the audio commentary by Minghella. Skip the documentary and the deleted scenes altogether.