Another day, another thriller! After seeing the excellent Bad Samaritan, a few days ago (find that review here), James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) returns with another film of that type in the form of Breaking In, starring Gabrielle Union (Bring it On). Other than belonging to the same genre, however, the two films have little in common. I would liken Breaking In more to last year’s enjoyable Kidnap (and that review is here) in the sense that both are essentially rescue/revenge pictures in which a mother is attempting to rescue her child/children and both star African-American females in the lead, which is notable and commendable after the Oscar controversy from a couple of years ago. That’s not to say, however, that there’s any chance of Breaking In winning an Oscar.
The story of Breaking In centers around Union’s Shaun and her children Jasmine (Ajiona Alexis) and Glover (Seth Carr). When Shaun’s estranged father passes away, she and her family inherit his opulent house. Within a safe inside the house resides a large amount of cash, of which some rather ambitious criminals have gotten wind. When they come for the money, they unsuspectingly find Shaun and her kids there and end up taking the children hostage and locking Shaun out of the well-fortified mansion. To save her children, Shaun must break into her own house and attempt to outwit and possibly outlast the men who are threatening the lives of her daughter and son.
While the cast isn’t required to push themselves to anything particularly challenging, all do a fine job, with Union and Billy Burke (who plays Eddie, the mastermind behind the theft) standing out. Union has a strong presence and a charisma that both clamor for her to be in the leading role. She deftly finds the proper balance between concern, fear, desperation, and anger, with a natural inclination for when to project which and to what degree. As I was preparing this post, I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to name – and then find – a recognizable film and/or part in which she had previously partaken, and that’s a shame. Union shows here that she’s got the chops; she just needs the opportunity.
Burke slinks through the film as the cool-as-a-cucumber criminal genius. Eddie has a plan and he has confidence in himself. He has no reason to doubt that he can handle whatever Shaun throws his way – especially with three other men at his side – and, though she presents more of a challenge than he initially expects, he never panics or behaves rashly. This is a refreshing change of pace from what we often see in these pulpy thrillers and that uniqueness is compounded when taking the three other criminals into consideration. Each of the four men have distinct personalities, temperaments, goals, and methodologies, adding an extra element to their inclusion and spicing up their interactions.
It would have been nice if the script had paid as much attention to the story as it does to the characters. It all starts out well enough. The plot device of having Shaun – the protagonist – trying to break into the house in order to get at the villains is clever and provides a unique role reversal. In positioning her as the aggressor, the thieves are put on the defensive and get a taste of their own medicine. But it doesn’t take too long before the narrative runs out of tricks to pull regarding that idea and the rest of the film becomes more traditional and less inspired, offering little that audiences haven’t seen before.
Even then, most of that would be fine. It was still an entertaining ride up to that point, even if very little fresh ground had been broken. But then, in an ill-advised attempt at a late third-act twist, the film commits one of the most tired and eye-rolling of clichés, essentially pulling the plug on what had been a mostly believable, if distinctly Hollywood, adventure. But McTeigue simply couldn’t resist and, rather than knowing when to quit, he pushes the events too far and ends on the sourest note he could have possibly contrived (with “contrived” being the operative word).
So, what does all of this amount to? My powers of mathematical logic and reasoning make it simple: the first act is above average, the second act is average, and the third act is below average. So, naturally, that means that Breaking In is – as most movies are – average. But I would take it one step further and state that it’s frustratingly average. Union and Burke try to elevate the film with authentic, nuanced performances and the original premise of the film is a fun one. But it’s clear that the further screenwriter Ryan Engle got into his story, the fewer ideas he had, and so, rather than take the time to develop it further, he fell back on what he (and the rest of us) had seen so many times before. And, unfortunately, he didn’t stick to only the good stuff. Still, it’s not a horrible experience, and offers up some fun. And it would be good to support Union and the diverse casting. But if you want the best thriller in theaters, right now, Bad Samaritan is where you need to be.
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