Image Entertainment // 2008 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // June 10th, 2009
Friendship brought them together, love broke them apart.
Sometimes, people meet those from deep in their past who they never meant to lose contact with. To see that person's eyes or to hear their voice, you would think you would be happy, but instead you feel quite the opposite. You still love them, but you have a life of your own now. When you can't resist the pull of the past, like a moth to a flame, there lies nothing but pain. Now, imagine you're a famous poet and there's a war going on. That's when the real trouble starts.
Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys, Titus) has spent the war years not writing his famed poetry, but scripting propaganda for the British government. He's miserable, but it's a living. One night at the pub, he lays eyes on Vera Phillips (Kiera Knightley, Domino), his childhood sweetheart and a chanteuse for the troops. He instantly falls back in love with her, but his intentions are hamstrung by the presence of Caitlin (Sienna Miller, Factory Girl), his free-spirited but jealous wife. All jealousy aside, the couple is broke and Vera helps them by letting them stay with her. As the flames of passion begin to flare, Vera meets William (Cillian Murphy, Breakfast on Pluto), a soldier determined to marry her. She consents just as he's going off to battle, but now the new wife must deal with her own adulterous feelings while trying to keep from breaking Dylan and Caitlin apart.
When you put Matthew Rhys in bed with Keira Kightley on his right and Sienna Miller on his left, that is one lucky man. That does not mean, however, he is anything but an adequate Dylan Thomas. He's made up into a decent facsimile of the poet's look, but I have a hard time understanding the point of making a historical figure the central part of a film. Did the character have to be Dylan Thomas over a fictionalized poet? Did the film need to feature an artist at all? The answer to both questions is decidedly no. On top of it, the added baggage that using a historical figure brings gives undue expectations that it will have something to do with Thomas's poetry or in some way connect the poet's life with the greater picture of England during WWII. The Edge of Love, however, is a very standard period drama. I find nothing wrong with that, and the film works well as that, but I simply have a hard time understanding why, so often, has to employ such a figure to make the story seem important. This device should have a point before being employed, but there is not one here.
That pet peeve aside, The Edge of Love is a fast-paced period drama with good performances, a nice sense of time and place, and an absolutely gorgeous look. There are some frustrating problems in the script, but it still maintains its interest. Rhys is charming as the poet, even if the character has little to do with the man. Though the entire romantic premise is based around Thomas's blatant infidelities, it is still easy to enjoy the character. He revels in his celebrity status and the luck it brings to his love life, but he's also a total wreck of a human being. Everybody in his life resents him for it, but they accept his actions as part of him and they stick around.
Vera and Caitlin, while living together with Dylan, develop a strange relationship. While they start at odds with one another, they build a mutual respect, which turns to friendship, and finally something that verges on the romantic, though they never actually cross the line. In spite of Dylan's manipulations, the women don't turn into bitter enemies. Without William's pursuit of Vera, however, they probably wouldn't stay so chummy. William is utterly distasteful, and will prove himself as such, but Vera relents and marriages. This estranged relationship gives Vera some legitimacy as a result and is free to live with Dylan and Caitlin out of the view of suspicious eyes.
There are frequent problems with the characters' motivations; namely, why these people keep going back to each other after the horrible things they do. It is interesting, however, to see the four characters interact, because the differences in their personalities are the cause of so many of their problems. Dylan is a successful artist, with all the trappings that go with it. He is doted on, given all the support he could want, and takes advantage of it at every opportunity. Vera is Dylan's first love and any romantic can tell you that he's never getting over that. Vera has a prim exterior that belies a burning sexuality which Dylan cannot stay away from, but he will never fulfill her desire for a proper family or support. This is why she gets on so well with Caitlin. Caitlin is a free spirit on the outside, which appeals to Vera's internal self, but she harbors deep sadness and regret, resenting Dylan for believing that he would ever really give a damn about her. This leaves William, the odd man out the whole time. He ingratiates himself into their little clique and strips it of one of its members to satisfy a fetish for a singer who turns him on. He tears her away from everything she had and then hates her for not being what she once had been.
The performances are universally good, but the script doesn't always do them justice. The characters sometimes just make decisions without justification so, for as much good as the performers do, they can't overcome the holes. Director John Maybury (The Jacket) does his part, however, with an excellent look for the film. During Knightley's time on stage (singing the songs herself, and fairly well, to her credit), he gives us an almost surreal palette of pastels only to pull back to the drab, nearly color-free 1940s England. These scenes are intercut with war footage taken from newsreels to juxtapose the horror of war with the lives of relative luxury our characters lead. Noted composer Angelo Batalamenti, frequent David Lynch collaborator, has written an excellent score that really makes the atmosphere of the film.
This version of The Edge of Love from Image Entertainment is a screener copy, so any and all technical details about the release are subject to change. As it stands, however, the picture and sound both look very good. The image has bold colors and very few problems in the transfer. The surround sound is equally fine with clear dialog and bombastic explosions. The case advertises a commentary from Maybury and some outtakes, but they were not on my disc.
The Edge of Love has plenty of problems in its scripting, but my interest was maintained throughout. Sometimes, beautiful people, a nice look, and a great score is all I need.
Not guilty, but with plenty of reservations. It's no Dylan Thomas poem,
that's for sure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R