How hard can it be to be Jude Law? That’s the unspoken question lurking beneath Anthony Minghella’s latest contemporary drama, which hangs on whether we can sympathise with a man who has everything one could possibly want – good looks, a beautiful partner, a sumptuous home, a lucrative share in a flourishing architect firm – but who still yearns for something more.
You see, what Law’s after can’t be found in the upscale dwelling he shares with Robin Wright Penn, or the swanky offices where he and Martin Freeman plan the urban regeneration of King’s Cross. No, it can only be located in the bed of Juliette Binoche, the care-worn Bosnian seamstress whose teenage son is behind the spate of opportunistic burglaries that have left Jude’s workplace emptier than a junkie’s bank account.
Swallow this, though, and Minghella’s thought-provoking drama – his first film to be set in the here and now since 1991’s Truly, Madly, Deeply – provides a smart look at the culture clash between the capital’s aspirational yuppie elite and its invisible immigrant underclass.
His central theme, one explored elsewhere by Robert Altman, Paul Haggis and Law’s previous London-based outing Closer, is how a chance encounter with a person outside one’s closeted social circle can open the door to a whole new world. And while there’s something naive and insufferable about Law’s blundering invasions into lives he can’t possibly comprehend, it’s his willingness to try to transcend his middle-class parameters that makes his flawed hero appealing, intriguing and, yes, sympathetic.
As impressive as the oft-derided actor is, it’s Binoche who startles with a raw portrayal bristling with anger and a festering sense of injustice. Kudos also to DoP Benoît Delhomme, who bypasses the usual postcard iconography to reveal a gritty, oddly majestic landscape of ugly concrete and graffiti-strewn decay.