Great Movies II

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Breaking In

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jun 2, 2015

That 80’s score obscures the fact for the little while, but this is a timeless little piece. Breaking In is defiantly small-scaled, quiet, even modest. But there are powerful accumulations here, little lasers of perception and compassion, of interesting incident combined with real wisdom. The size of the coveralls. The friendly guard dog, and the soft-sold, less friendly second dog. The card game and the nickname. Everyone is tempted toward spectacle and high style, but isn’t this what writing and direction are for? Text, character, performance, and the effective communication of important ideas. If this is the case, since this is the case, the attentive, sensitive viewer will find this to be sure-handed to the point of virtuosity.

Director Bill Forsythe and writer John Sayles are really well matched here; their dispositions and methods are wonderfully complementary. As far as performance goes, Burt Reynolds got the press, and he’s very good. (A lot of typecast actors could really shock us if they were to find such felicitous support.) But CaseySeimaszko is the big revelation here. He could have chosen mere eccentricity, but he finally registers as complex, mysterious, precious. Look, for instance, at his joyful, grateful response to the prostitute’s favours. Apropos, this is exemplary naturalism. You can’t really show it to the sensitive, but it is also beyond moral reproach. No one is advocating or celebrating, but neither are they holding their noses. They are simply detailing these seemingly marginal lives until we understand how unmarginal they are, how substantial, central, sufficient.

All that makes the movie sound a bit too calculated or good-for-you. It’s also a nice, capable, Donald Westlake/Dortmunder-reminiscent caper picture.  The various jobs are really nicely detailed and built up.  Also, it’s an effective comedy, in an easy-going way. Special commendation to supporting performances from Maury Chaykin and Stephen Tobolowsky. (“Ned? Ned Ryerson?!”) After all of this adept and kindly material, the ending comes across as quite stunning, part Chekhov, part de Maupassant. What a fine piece of work!