Reviewed by GREG KING
The literate novels of Booker Prize winning author Ian McEwan deal with grand themes of life and death, guilt and redemption, atonement, and love in its varying forms. Enduring Love, the latest of his novels to be adapted to the screen, deals with several kinds of love, but at the centre of the story is the most dangerous kind – obsessive love – and plays like a misanthropic British version of Fatal Attraction.
The film starts out simply enough as successful author and lecturer Joe (Daniel Craig, from The Mother and Sylvia, etc) sets out on a picnic with his girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton). But the idyllic afternoon soon takes a tragic turn when Joe becomes involved in trying to rescue a young boy from a runaway balloon. A man dies during the attempt, and Joe is soon consumed by guilt over the accident, fearing that he and his fellow rescuers failed to do enough. His attempts to rationalise the accident and its aftermath soon estrange him from Claire. And then the unhinged Jed (a suitably dishevelled Rhys Ifans) turns up. Jed was also involved in the abortive rescue attempt, and he feels that he and Joe formed some deep bond during that shared experience. He begins to stalk Joe, and his obsession soon turns Joe’s life upside down.
This film adaptation takes a few liberties McEwan’s celebrated novel, and even changes the ending. But, as he is credited as one of the associate producers, it would seem that these change have his approval.
Director Roger Michell is best known for his light romantic comedies (Notting Hill, etc), and he seems a little out of his depth with this intense and morally ambiguous psychological drama. His direction is cold and clinical, and he seems emotionally detached from the material. He never really allows the audience to warm to either the film or the characters, who are an inherently unlikeable bunch. The opening sequence with the runaway balloon is undeniably thrilling, but the rest of the film fails to match those dizzying heights.
The performances are solid throughout and heighten the uneasy tension of this thriller. Craig brings a level of intensity to his performance, and he captures Joe’s mental disintegration and growing sense of paranoia. Better known for playing lonely losers in quirky comedies, Ifans is all nervous twitches and uneasy mannerisms as the dangerously unhinged Jed.