Breaking and Entering is the first film to be made from an original script by Anthony Minghella since his debut feature Truly Madly Deeply. Since then he has assiduously adapted famous and important novels. There’s nothing wrong with adaptations but they do cause you to ask why go down so literal a path. I have to say however that I found that while his versions of Cold Mountain and The English Patient hewed along the familiar literary path, his version of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley took a lot of liberties. Ripley was made explicitly gay and for some reason the film was set in 1959 almost ten years after the book but forty years before the more logical present. It was all part of a feast of period glamour that the film sought to invoke. I thought those decisions unforgivable.
Breaking and Entering starts out as an attempt by Minghella to do his own version of Highsmith but it soon shows yet again just how hard that trick is to pull off, (even when trying for literal adaptations of the great woman’s work).
Patricia Highsmith liked to write books which examined the effect of guilt on her characters and she often used a schema of doubling, putting one person into the shoes or shadown of another. Violence ensued. Minghella’s schema involves putting Will, a smart young architect with a wife named Liv and a child named Bea (yeah right) in the path of another woman, a beautiful Bosnian refugee with an errant, anti-social son. Both women in fact are beautiful. Like any Highsmith plot, small lies and deceptions come back to haunt the man, make him decide to do stupid things, generate a sense of panic and moral slippage until it all careers out of control. It takes some time to tell. Somehwere beyond forty minutes elapse before Will has actually met the Bosnian. In between there’s an elaborate sub-plot with a Russian prostitute, a character employed largely to cause Will to tell even more lies. Her presence does give him one telling moment when her presents her with a bottle of his wife’s perfume so that the wife wont again pick up the foreign scent. She's furious.
Finally however, as we move towards a climax where Will’s lies have caused mayhem and all the characters appear doomed, someone has deemed that the film has to end well. Minghella’s schematics suddenly collapse into some sort of happy ending, two happy endings in fact, though the second has absolutely no emotional conviction at all. Yah, boo, sucks. Will was a creep and no Highsmith creep ever escaped scot free or was so easily forgiven.
I suspect, without knowing anything of course, that the forgiveness is the product of script intervention by those intellectual giants, the Weinstein Bros. Their odious fingerprints are all over the film’s ending. They’ve done it often enough to have plenty of form. Even some Australian producers have suffered their ministrations. If my suspicions are true then we can say that at some point someone decided to remove what little merit the film otherwise had by not allowing it to be true to its characters and their modern dilemmas. Notwithstanding all this intervention I doubt it will save the film from box office oblivion.