Anthony Minghella's schematic drama of lives lived across a gulf of socioeconomic class and national origin unfolds in London's rough-edged King's Cross, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood where haves and have-nots rub shoulders while viewing each other warily through a scrim of suspicion and ignorance.
Trendy architect Will Francis (Jude Law) and his partner, Sandy (Martin Freeman), whose company specializes in "environmental design," have just opened a state-of-the-art studio in a converted King's Cross warehouse. It's immediately robbed not once but twice, by thieves who thwart the alarm system and steal its high-tech computer equipment, including Will's laptop. Suspicion falls on the cleaning crew, and since the cleaning company's employees are black and the architects overwhelmingly white, the assumption smacks of racism and complicates shy Sandy's crush on cleaner Erika (Caroline Chikezie). Meanwhile, Will's relationship with Swedish-American Liv (Robin Wright Penn), his longtime partner, is collapsing under the strain of her depression and her 13-year-old daughter's (Poppy Rogers) increasingly unmanageable obsessive-compulsions.
At the same time, Bosnian refugee Amira (Juliette Binoche), who lives in a dense, crime-ridden King's Cross housing project — the kind Will idealistically wants to see replaced with developments whose green spaces and open design will encourage a sense of community rather than alienation — ekes out a living as a freelance seamstress and worries about her restless teenager, Miro (Rafi Gavron). Unbeknownst to her, Miro is committing break-ins, including the ones at Will's office, for his uncle Dragan (Rad Lazar), who has nothing but contempt for his late brother's Muslim widow. Ironically, Miro's potentially constructive passion for the urban martial art parkour makes him a perfect burglar: His ability to scramble across rooftops and navigate interior beams and pipes gets him into Will's office through the apparently inaccessible skylight. Will's increasing distance from Liv, meanwhile, leads him into an oddly companionable relationship with Romanian prostitute Oana (Vera Farmiga), who turns tricks in the alley that he's staked out in hopes of catching the burglars red-handed, and a more problematic relationship with Amira, whom he befriends in hopes of getting to Miro. Will instead becomes entangled with the lonely Amira, whose ferocious loyalty to her difficult son vastly complicates an already volatile situation.
Though intricately plotted and well acted, Minghella's characters feel more like symbols than flesh-and-blood characters, and their travails seem designed to illustrate a lecture about privilege, injustice, cultural stereotypes and bourgeois complacency. The story is complex enough to be absorbing, but its pedantic quality makes it — and its lessons — all too easy to forget. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh