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Breaking In (1989)
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by Jack Sommersby

"'We Learn by Doing.'"
4 stars

Low-key, uncommonly observant and original, this is one of those films that may not seem like much while you're watching it but manages to work on you in pleasurably subtle ways. It's imperfect, but so much of it is so damn good, you're more than willing to overlook these shortcomings.

Burt Reynolds gives an outstanding staying-in-character performance as a sixty-one-year-old Portland safecracker who takes overeager young car mechanic Casey Siemaszko under his tutelage in this intoxicating low-key comedy from writer John Sayles and director Bill Forsythe. The film is less reliant on gags and more on amusingly acute observations of human behavior (like lecturing over the wrongness of stealing an apple in the middle of a grocery store robbery) and philosophies (engaging the services of a call girl is no less reputable than going out on a regular date because you're paying for "it" -- i.e. sex -- either way); and the characters come off less like pawns of the plot (with what little plot there is, mind you) and more like integrals of the story. Breaking In may not seem like a big deal, yet it's fairly amazing in its determination never to belabor the obvious nor to offer cut-rate solutions to complex problems; it's one of those slice-of-life films that is appropriately breezy and comfortable in its own skin, so it doesn't feel the need to go needlessly melodramatic or invoke a sense of shame to score points with the kind of audience that likes everything spelled out. In a big way, it's kind of like to filmmaking what Jeff Bridges is to acting: never calling undue attention to itself, and forgoing sensationalism in favor of accumulating finely textured nuances for the good of the overall whole. The entire cast, from starring to supporting roles, is pitch-perfect, with Reynolds the standout in the kind of rich performance he likely would have given six years earlier had he not turned down the role Jack Nicholson won an Oscar for in Terms of Endearment. (He also did outstanding work in '89 as a framed-for-murder ex-cop in Michael Crichton's otherwise-ludicrous Physical Evidence, and the voice of a German shepherd in Don Bluth's engaging animated feature All Dogs Go to Heaven.)

This was the first Reynolds film one could even remotely ascribe the term "art house" to, and though it grossed just under $2 million during its U.S. theatrical run it was widely embraced by critics and earned a nomination at the Deauville Film Festival.

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originally posted: 06/09/04 21:37:16
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User Comments

8/20/07 mr.mike Good turn by BR and not a bad flick 4 stars
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  13-Oct-1989 (R)
  DVD: 16-Apr-2002



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