The home invasion movie genre is a well worn track by this point, with dozens of films having been produced over more than a century of cinema, but a relative minority of these feature female characters in anything other than the role of helpless victim. Shaun, the female lead of James McTeigue’s latest film Breaking In, may be the victim, but she is anything but helpless.
Following the death of her father, Shaun and her two children Jasmine and Glover have journeyed to his surprisingly well-secured home to get it ready to be sold. While there they are ambushed by four men seeking a safe full of money that is rumoured to be hidden somewhere inside the house. Her children held hostage, her home invaded by strangers, Shaun is trapped outside and must find a way back in.
In some ways, the plot treads well worn ground. There are overtones of Panic Room, Don’t Breathe and even Die Hard, but it’s executed well with hardly any flab or wasted space to speak of. There’s little time spent dwelling on family drama or tragedy because this story focuses entirely on what a mother will do to protect her children. For me the big draw is the lead character. Her role could just as easily have been played by a man, and that is a very good thing. No punches are pulled, no compromises are made in the storytelling, she is not a side character, this story is entirely about her. It was a genuine pleasure to watch a film where the lead role could just have easily have been written for a man as much as a woman, even the name is gender ambiguous in this context and Hollywood as a whole would benefit from more writing like this.
The action scenes are as energetic as any involving a male lead; the violence as intense. Sometimes when you see a man fighting a woman in a film like this, they treat them differently. Rather than punches there’s slapping, backhanding, pushing them as if they are nowhere near as great a threat as another man might be. That is most certainly not the case here with the scenes of violence every bit as potent and no punches pulled. Literally.
Our lead here is played by Gabrielle Union – who has also appeared in Bad Boys 2, Sleepless, Being Mary Jane and many others – and here she gets to play an almost John McClane-esque character; strong and self-resilient when trapped alone against superior odds, and she sells the role perfectly. She is utterly believable as a woman driven to extreme measures in defence of her family.
Our other main character is the defacto leader of our home invaders, Eddie, played here by Billy Burke who will likely be most well known as Bella Swan’s father from the Twilight series or perhaps as Miles Matheson from the TV series Revolution. Again the Die Hard parallels rear their heads with more than a hint of Hans Gruber’s cool, almost detached air of confidence and control coming across in all his scenes. Only near the end does that facade of calmness begin to slip as his plans are repeatedly stymied by Shaun’s efforts.
Breaking In will not set the cinematic world on fire, it will not revolutionise the genre of home invasion movies, but what it will do is entertain and hold the audience’s attention from start to end as they are drawn into a well shot, tightly written and smartly executed story of one woman fighting against the odds. At a running time of a mere 88 minutes this is a movie well worth finding the time for.