Paramount // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jesse Ataide (Retired) // July 19th, 2005
Unexpected. Unpredictable. Uncontrollable. A deadly obsession takes hold.
Seeing a generic title like "Enduring Love," one would probably be tempted to categorize this film with the popular romantic comedy Notting Hill, which is by the same director. But in reality, it is much more akin to Changing Lanes and The Mother, the two films director Roger Michell has made since that frothy British charmer. Enduring Love is an intense, dark drama/thriller that examines what happens when an uncommon occurrence alters several lives forever.
Joe (Daniel Craig, Layer Cake) and Claire (Samantha Morton, Minority Report) are spending a sunny afternoon together in the English countryside when tragedy unexpectedly strikes. While enjoying a picnic in a meadow, the two witness a massive hot-air balloon crash nearby, and the pair, along with several other witnesses, spring to help a young boy caught in the runaway balloon. Despite the best efforts of all involved, a tragic occurrence quickly becomes unavoidable.
Joe and Claire try to deal with their shock by returning to their everyday lives, but things begin to go terribly wrong after Joe gets a call from Jed (Rhys Ifans, Danny Deckchair), who was also present at the accident and wants to meet and discuss what happened. Quickly it becomes apparent that Jed may not just be a grieving witness to a horrible event, but perhaps a dangerous stalker.
Enduring Love is one of those occasional films that sets the bar so high during its first scene that the rest of the film seems like an anticlimax. The manner in which the opening balloon crash and unsuccessful rescue attempt are photographed and edited is simply stunning. It's both exciting and aesthetically beautiful, but it also conveys the pulse-quickening disorientation of experiencing an unexpected, unbelievable event.
The sequences that follow (Joe and Claire retelling their experiences to their two close friends, including Love Actually's Bill Nighy, over a candlelit dinner; several brief glimpses into the couple's domestic life) are filled with wonderfully captured details that not only give context, but they also introduce a number of themes that establish the vague, uneasy melancholy that drives the rest of the film. Unfortunately, the film begins to head downhill all too quickly, as the story (adapted from a novel by acclaimed author Ian McEwan) becomes so convoluted that it dilutes the skill and effectiveness of all the better aspects of the film.
The turning point is the reintroduction of Jed, although ironically, Rhys Ifans gives a terrific performance as the mysterious, possibly dangerous person who puts into jeopardy everything Joe and Claire hold dear. It's a thankless role, and Ifans manages to do wonders with what he is given. But Jed is kept such an enigma (is he just a lonely person reaching out? a psycho? a deluded Jesus freak? an obsessive homosexual?) that he becomes a gaping hole in the center of the film, and the rest of the tightly constructed plot just doesn't seem to quite add up correctly.
What ultimately saves the film is the top-notch work from everybody else involved. Daniel Craig, a terrific British actor who despite fine work in films such as Layer Cake, Road to Perdition, and Sylvia continues to linger on the fringes of stardom, gives a subtle but powerful performance; the ever-capable Samantha Morton also does fine work, despite being somewhat wasted in such a limited role. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, each giving brief performances that one wishes could have been further developed, but instead just add texture to the film through their peripheral status. Roger Michell's direction is assured and stylish without ever being too self-conscious, and the cinematography, editing, and London location combine together so beautifully that one wishes the story matched them. As it stands, Enduring Love's script didn't deserve such a masterful treatment.
The widescreen transfer on this disc is fine but unexceptional, with no obvious defects except a slight lack of sharpness in the image; the same could be said of the two audio tracks (English 5.1 surround and English 2.0 surround). English subtitles are provided, presumably intended for the hearing impaired, as this is an English-language production. There are no extras provided on this disc, which is unfortunate, especially since the Region 2 disc seems filled with interesting bonus material.
Although undeniably flawed, Enduring Love is worth a look for those interested in catching some fine performances and some reassurance that not all British films are either based on a Jane Austen novel, star Hugh Grant, or both.
It's not perfect, but it's not guilty either.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated R