Breaking In Review
They may not be the most immediate of double acts, but the 1989 pairing of Scottish director Bill Forsyth - the man responsible, most famously, for Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero - and indie figurehead John Sayles - writer of Piranha and writer-director of Baby, It’s You and City of Hope - proved to be a winning combination and resulted in the gem that is Breaking In. The film may belong to the ranks of those overfull sub-genres the heist movie and the buddy movie, yet this odd transatlantic couple adopt them in a manner that appeals to both. Breaking In is a quiet, unhurried character study focussing on Burt Reynolds’ suave but limping old hand and rough around the edges new kid on the block Casey Siemaszko. The two meet by chance trying to pull the same job - though Siemaszko is more concerned with the fridge than the safe - and soon Reynolds is imparting his knowledge onto the youngster. Indeed, the breaking in of the title plays two ways.
So is this primarily a Bill Forsyth film or a John Sayles one? The focus on the youthful Siemaszko, as opposed to big name Reynolds, gives Breaking In a similar vein to That Sinking Feeling and Gregory's Girl, whilst the entire film could be read as the director’s riposte to Michael Hoffman’s Restless Natives (made four years earlier) which was regularly referred to by critics as a Forsyth-esque crime flick. However, the leanness of the narrative (the film begins and presumably, though ambiguously ends at the same time as the central relationship) is very much a Sayles trait - even his “epics” such as City of Hope and Sunshine State are refreshingly free of any extraneous bullshit - as is the small town Americana. Of course, Forsyth’s films had been gradually moving in this direction, beginning with the invading Texans in Local Hero’s Scotland and continuing with Housekeeping, his first U.S. film proper, though the remote 1950s setting was barely distinguishable from his early work (indeed, it wasn’t actually filmed in the states). Yet Sayles’ presence seems to have afforded him an extra ease and allowed the territory to be not so alien as could be expected.
To separate the pair, however, is to ignore the qualities that they bring out in each other and the sense of unison this entails. One of the most refreshing aspects of Breaking In is the manner in which it doesn’t take pot shots at its chosen genres but merely co-opts them for its makers’ needs. Yet at the same time the pair also never forget the keystones of such works meaning that the film is still reliant on suspense, set pieces and the wonderful chemistry that all great buddy movies have. Indeed, the simplicity of Sayles’ screenplay combined with the unfussy nature of Forsyth’s working methods has resulted in Reynolds’ finest performance of the eighties, one which retains the actor’s natural charms but excises any hint of the arrogance that begun to dominate much of his work during the decade. Likewise, Siemaszko proves so utterly winning that you immediately want to find out what happened to him following his performance here and in the first Young Guns. What’s even more delightful, however, is the way in which Breaking In never goes for the obvious but instead delves into the more delightful truths meaning that, at the very least, this is a film brimful of happy moments. Admittedly, there are occasional imbalances - the cameos from Maury Chaykin and Stephen Tobolowsky may have worked in Sayles picture but seem a little too quirky for Forsyth’s mannerisms - yet these remain minor flaws to a wonderful little gem ripe for rediscovery.
Sadly no extras - a commentary from the writing-directing team would have been most welcome - though MGM’s disc does have a decent presentation. The original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 (one that seems perfectly suited to Forsyth’s style) is adhered to, though rendered non-anamorphically, and the print is in fine condition. Indeed, there is little damage to speak of, with the image remaining clean throughout. Likewise, the soundtrack, in the original Dolby Surround, is free of any dirt or damage and poses no problems to speak of.