Image Entertainment // 2008 // 111 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // July 14th, 2009
The only thing more dangerous than war...is love.
I'm puzzled as to why The Edge of Love doesn't really click. There are a lot of positive elements at work in the film. First, we have a talented cast turning in fine-tuned performances. We have superb technical work in almost every department. We have a literate screenplay by Sharman MacDonald (best-known for being the mother of actress Keira Knightley, who plays one of the lead roles here). There are moments of truth to be found in this film, and it's evident that pretty much everyone involved is making an attempt to create a genuinely classy film. Somehow, despite everything this film has going for it, The Edge of Love fails to establish itself as an emotionally or mentally involving experience.
The film is based on events in the life of WWII-era poet Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys, Titus), a slovenly and irresponsible rake who allowed his impulses to control him more often than not. The film begins during the early days of the war, as Dylan runs into Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley, Atonement), an old flame from his teenage years. Vera is excited to see Dylan again, but her hopes of rekindling an old romance are immediately dashed when she discovers that Dylan is married. His wife is Caitlin MacNamara (Sienna Miller, Layer Cake), who initially approaches Vera with a protective suspicion. "I might like you, and I might not," she sniffs. However, after a short getting-to-know-you period, Caitlin and Vera grow to like each other very much indeed. Vera comes to live with the Thomas' for a while, a situation that might seem quite odd considering the history involved, but Caitlin and Dylan are fairly progressive individuals. They sleep around on each other with frequency, a fact that neither party particularly loves, but they are both content enough with the situation. They each do it because the other one does it.
Dylan and Caitlin both make suggestive advances on Vera at various points, but the film's moderate sense of historical accuracy prevents it from throwing out anything more than vague speculations. There are hints that Dylan and Vera might have slept with each other, but it is never confirmed. There are plenty of scenes that make subtle and not-so-subtle suggestions about the potentially Sapphic nature of the relationship between Vera and Caitlin, but it never veers into authentic, unquestionably lesbian behavior. Essentially, the film takes as much dramatic license as possible with history without ever actually contradicting any significant known facts. For instance, the fact that all three individuals insisted repeatedly that there was no hanky-panky of any sort going on. They were just friends.
What is known is that Vera began to establish her own relationship while living with Dylan and Caitlin. She met William Killick (Cillian Murphy, Batman Begins), a down-to-earth soldier. He had a great deal of dislike for the supposedly sophisticated modernism of Dylan Thomas, but he was a seemingly decent and sincere man. Vera was very fond of William, and married him just before he went off to the battlefield. The two couples bought Welsh seaside houses sitting right next to each other; another somewhat odd decision considering William's buried contempt for Dylan. It's certainly convenient for dramatic scenarios of jealousy: Dylan looks on in frustration as William makes love to Vera, and William quietly burns with anger as Dylan dances with Vera and steals a quick kiss.
It all sounds like terrifically compelling historical soap opera, but you would be surprised at just how dull most of this is. Director John Maybury (who previously worked with Knightley in another disappointing film, The Jacket) directs everything with a professionalism so cool that it never allows us to feel anything. At times it seems as if we are witnessing a living museum piece. Again, all of this is presented in supremely impressive fashion, complete with lovely location settings, pristine costume design and a surprisingly lush score from Angelo Badalamenti. Something about the film is perhaps just a little too tidy. There are lots of emotions at work here, but filtered through a superior highbrow sensibility that never lets us connect with them. I'm not sure that we could have anyway, given that most of the characters are rather unlikable in one way or another. That particularly applies to the men, as Dylan is a thoroughly self-absorbed jerk and William turns rather abusive later on.
Even so, the performances are to be admired. Knightley and Miller both excel when they're not being forced to participate in exploitative, giggly bathtub scenes. Knightley sort of seems to be the central character, partially because she is placed as an object of desire for all of the other characters. Her relationship with each individual seems to be a genuinely tender one, but it's difficult to give so much tenderness to more than one person before somebody starts to become very unhappy. Meanwhile, Miller does a fine job of capturing a weariness that defines much of what she does. Caitlin's feelings are as real as Vera's, but she has much less passion when it comes to expressing them. Rhys makes a fine Dylan Thomas, capturing a little bit of charm and a lot of preposterous pretension as the famed poet. His poetic readings throughout the film are a misfire, though. They seem intended to add weight, but feel a bit too full of themselves (much like Thomas himself). Murphy is typically a very interesting actor, but he is merely adequate in an admittedly limited role.
The Edge of Love was shot on digital video to mostly satisfactory results. The brighter scenes in the film really pop with vibrant color. Just take a look at the opening shot of a sparkling Knightley singing (something she does quite well, thank you) into a radio microphone. However, the visual look of the film is inconsistent. It goes back and forth between slick polish and gritty grime without much logical reason. Darker scenes occasionally seem intentionally murky, but sometimes they are sharp and well-defined. Hmm. Inconsistencies aside, most of the "flaws" here are intentional artistic choices and the transfer does what it is supposed to do. Audio is a mixed bag. There are a handful of very dynamic wartime sequences that will really shake your speakers, but I must admit that they are simply too loud in contrast to the rest of the film. Murphy's dialogue in particular is mumbly and difficult to make out much of the time, forcing me to crank up the volume until the next giant blast arrived.
Extras are actually rather weak. The audio commentary with Marbury and Rhys is kind of fun in a jokey sort of way, but surprisingly uninformative and lightweight. Too bad, I was hoping for a better justification of this film that what this commentary provides. A 10-minute EPK-style featurette called "Looking Over The Edge of Love" is included, as is a 4-minute gag reel. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer is on hand.
Those such as myself who have greatly enjoyed Knightley's period work like Pride and Prejudice, Atonement, and The Duchess should proceed with caution. Despite the terrific craftsmanship, The Edge of Love is ultimately a dull and irrelevant outing. The Blu-ray transfer gets the job done for the HD-enabled curious to check out the film.
It's a close call, but this one is guilty of failing to deliver on its
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R