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  Breaking In Learn By Doing
Year: 1989
Director: Bill Forsyth
Stars: Burt Reynolds, Casey Siemaszko, Sheila Kelley, Lorraine Toussaint, Albert Salmi, Harry Carey Jr, Maury Chaykin, Stephen Tobolowsky, Richard Key Jones, Tom Lasswell, Walter Shane, Frank A. Damiani, David Frishberg, John Baldwin, Eddie Driscoll, Alan Fudge
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: One night Mike Lafebb (Casey Siemaszko) broke into a house in the suburbs, as was his habit for he would enter empty homes, help himself to food and television, then leave before the owners returned. However, he would have company this evening as after raiding the contents of the fridge and wandering around to find the TV, he met someone who claimed to be fixing it, though they both knew he was doing nothing of the sort. He was Ernie Mullins (Burt Reynolds), career criminal and expert safecracker, who was doing what he did best, and somehow Mike was carried along as Ernie decided he now had a new student, with himself as a mentor...

Bill Forsyth directed a John Sayles screenplay and it starred Burt Reynolds? Yes, it happened, though you would be forgiven for having either forgotten about it, or more probably never having heard of it in the first place. Although it garnered some positive reviews, it utterly sank without trace back in 1989, with only a home entertainment release to prove it existed, though that was largely ignored. The positivity it received was thanks to the goodwill the three talents had amassed over their careers, Reynolds because it seemed as if he was giving a proper performance after phoning it in for most of the nineteen-eighties, since his heyday was well and truly over.

Sayles was of course an indie legend, having a very good decade either helming his own lauded projects or helping others with theirs, and Forsyth's Scottish comedies were warmly regarded, both at home and internationally, as he was a genuinely original voice and audiences responded to that, his humanity and gentle humour major selling points of his work. On the other hand, there were rumours of behind the scenes turmoil on Breaking In which saw Forsyth's preferred direction for the project ignored and producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr having the final say on what form it took, which was not what everyone involved wanted; little wonder it was rather orphaned.

You could kind of see the Forsyth movie it should have been in selected scenes, but also why that was never going to work out as a star vehicle for Reynolds. Bits and pieces were appealingly offbeat, such as the guard dog at one particular robbery that simply observes the crime without any intervention, even going as far as accompanying them to the safe to take in the break in, and the prostitute naive Mike starts to believe is his girlfriend (Sheila Kelley) despite her simply reacting to him as she would any client she wanted money from was an intriguing presence, but as it was hardly in the film outside from a central stretch of the plot. Yet someone, somewhere had tried to wrangle a caper flick out of this in the edit, and the strain did show, because the material stubbornly refused to play along.

We were presumably intended to consider these two men, one starting his career in theft and the other drawing it to a close, as part of a cycle where lawbreaking was passed down from generation to generation, and not in a benevolent manner, either. You imagine of Mike had never met Ernie he would have grown out of his housebreaking ways and, assuming he was never caught, lived a fairly productive life, nothing special but nothing to be ashamed of either. However, once Ernie draws him in as an accomplice, apparently seeing him as the son he never had (at least, we're not sure if he had a son), then he has marred the boy's life especially in light of what ultimately happens to him, and the feeling it was utterly unnecessary was hard to shake. For a film that came across as largely inconsequential, with a complete lack of thrills and not that many laughs either, if you were being honest, Mike's fate was pretty harsh and it was a mere twist of fate that had doomed him. But the end result didn't explore that, failing in potential that might have been there had Forsyth been given his way. Music by Michael Gibbs.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Bill Forsyth  (1946 - )

Scottish writer and director whose gloomily whimsical comedies brought him worldwide recognition. Starting as an industrial filmmaker, he made the no-budget That Sinking Feeling which got him noticed enough to make the classic Gregory's Girl. This led to the similarly well-crafted and heartwarming Local Hero, and the less successful but no less enjoyable Comfort and Joy. Forsyth moved to America for his next films, quirky drama Housekeeping, crime comedy Breaking In, and ambitious but misguided Being Human, then finally returned to Scotland, and his first big success, with ill-received sequel Gregory's Two Girls. He has now retired from directing to concentrate on writing.

 
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