Dir: Roger Michell. 2004. UK. 100 mins.
After spinningan intense yarn with Hanif Kureishi in TheMother, UK film-maker Roger Michell turns to the ultimate British master ofthe dark side Ian McEwan for his latest film Enduring Love. The result is the most effective film adaptation ofMcEwan to date.
Faithful to thespirit if not the letter of the riveting 1996 novel, Enduring Love has more marketing hooks than The Mother - it's a thriller of sorts, for starters - and, backedby favourable reviews, could become a talking point among highbrow audiencesnot least for giving handsome Brit Daniel Craig a leading role which could lifthim to the next level of renown.
Michell carefullyavoids what could have become a psycho-stalker movie and he and screenwriterPenhall focus on the themes which made the novel unsettling, the effect ofrandom tragedies on the people touched by them and the insanity that can bebred by love, both given and received.
One of thefilm-makers' biggest challenges was to recreate McEwan's stunning opening scenein which we meet our cast of characters. The haunting sequence revolving arounda hot-air balloon in the still of a sunny afternoon in the English countrysideis eminently memorable and sets the tone for the rest of the drama. Michelldoes a good job in the film, creating the atmosphere of silent beauty and thenunsettling it with the dreamlike, then gruesome, nature of the tragedy. Theballoon motif is being used as a central image in the film's early marketingmaterials and will succeed in intriguing audiences who see it.
Just as collegeprofessor Joe Rose (Craig) is about to propose to his sculptor girlfriendClaire (Morton) in an Oxfordshire meadow, an out-of-control hot-air balloonlunges into sight with a young boy trapped in its basket. Rose joins other menwho have rushed to the scene in attempting to ground the balloon, but the windis too strong and all but one of the men let go of the ropes. The man who holdson is lifted away and falls to his death.
At the scene of thefallen body, Joe is instructed to pray by another of the men Jed Parry (Ifans)and, although an outspoken agnostic, he agrees.
Shaken by thetragedy, Joe tries to settle back into his bohemian London life with Claire andhis couple friends Robin (Nighy) and Rachel (Lynch) but he is plagued by imagesof the accident and cannot escape the guilt of letting go of the ropes. Thingsget worse when he is phoned by Jed who insists on a meeting and claims that"something has passed between them."
Jed says that he isin love with Joe and that Joe is in love with him, comments which Joe dismissesas the rantings of a mad man, but he also alarms Joe by suggesting that he wasthe first to let go of the ropes and therefore responsible for the man's death.
As Jed's advancesbecome more persistent and intrusive, Joe's relationship with Claire starts tosuffer and he questions the point of love in such a scientific andindiscriminate world. He becomes increasingly obnoxious and obsessed, finallyalienating Claire to the point that she breaks up with him. A finalconfrontation between Joe and Jed becomes inevitable.
Although it bearsthe structure of a thriller, EnduringLove is far less conventional than TheHand That Rocks The Cradle and similar shock schlock. Joe's decline is apsychological disintegration which makes the character hard to root for, whileJed is not an average stalker, offering such devoted love as could be religiousor simply sexual. Genre devotees expecting a thrill-ride will be disappointed,although Michell, compelling performances by Craig and Ifans and the insistentscore by Sams work up not inconsiderable tension along the way.
The finale itselfis less satisfying than what has come before. By answering questions about thenature and extent of Jed's "love" in a violent confrontation scene, Michell andPenhall effectively eradicate the ambiguity and menace which make the middlesection of the film so unnervingly untidy.
Prod cos: FreeRange Films, Pathe Pictures in association with UK Film Council, FilmFour,Inside Track.
US dist: Paramount Classics.
Int'l sales: Pathe International.
Exec prods: Francois Ivernel,Cameron McCracken, Duncan Reid, Tessa Ross.
Prod: Kevin Loader.
Scr: Joe Penhall, based on thenovel by Ian McEwan.
DoP: Haris Zambarloukos.
Prod des: John-Paul Kelly.
Ed: Nic Gaster.
Mus: Jeremy Sams.
Main cast: Daniel Craig, RhysIfans, Samantha Morton, Bill Nighy, Susan Lynch, Andrew Lincoln, Helen McCrory.