Director: James McTeigue
Screenplay: Ryan Engle
Starring: Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke
Runtime: 88 Minutes
Breaking In looks like it should be more substantial than it ends up being. Gabrielle Union plays Shaun Russell, a mother who must protect her two children after the mansion of her recently deceased father is invaded by burglars, led by Billy Burke’s Eddie.
Not only does this offer up a different enough spin on a home invasion narrative, whereby Shaun must fight her way back into a heavily fortified barricade of an estate through her own resourcefulness, but the opportunities of its premise and cast present so many interesting ideas it could work into a form of commentary, such as the prominent casting of a black female leading actor and the nature of wealth disparity in relation to race and society, or even isolationism.
But critiquing the film based on what it isn’t as opposed to what it is wouldn’t be fair. That being said, what it is feels bland and generic to such an extent that using its simple foundations to explore a concept, a gimmick or a new method of filmmaking as a primary focus might have made its shortcomings more forgivable. The film as it stands, unfortunately, doesn’t really want to engage with anything else beyond its tired and tested premise and a plethora of supremely conventional character archetypes that it does nothing with.
This is the kind of genre fare that doesn’t really want to challenge the audience, so much as run out the clock as an exercise for its director and leading woman/producer. To its credit, Gabrielle Union’s performance is just about the only really compelling element at play. Union is a hardworking actress who has been in far better films in the past, but seeing her get to lead a feature like this, regardless of its overall quality, is something worth noting in its favour. Burke is okay but he's given very little to work with, and nobody else leaves a lasting impression beyond how stereotypically offensive at least one of them turns out to be.
Nothing else adds up to much, with characterisation so flat or unpronounced that it’s kind of baffling to a degree. There’s the thought that maybe there was something more to the film that was cut, such as a recurring plot thread involving the criminal activities of Shaun’s father, and unresolved emotional issues that are seemingly brought up but never built on or addressed again.
The edit feels like something cut down from something nastier, and director James McTeigue (who is yet to make a film as good as his debut, V for Vendetta) just isn’t on form here. With drab looking cinematography and ugly lighting conditions worsened by the day for night shooting of nearly every exterior scene.
Gabrielle Union just about elevates the film above being a total waste, but it’s still not worth the effort even with a runtime this short. It’s slow, uninteresting and utterly content with achieving nothing more than highlighting its leading actress, as good as she is in the role.