Movie review by Greg Carlson
A total misfire on virtually every level, “Enduring Love” is one of the year’s most disappointing films. Adapted from Ian McEwan’s 1997 novel, the movie manages to get off to a terrific, terrifying start, but runs out of steam so fast that audience members might be surprised by just how quickly they can be overwhelmed by boredom and apathy. Director Roger Michell, who managed to make the pulpy “Changing Lanes” such a gripping entertainment, never finds his way with the source material. Is love an illusion? Can love give birth to unintended, horrible consequences? Considering that “Enduring Love” parades its philosophical agenda within the overly familiar psycho-thriller framework, the answers to those questions are not particularly satisfying.
The movie’s opening scene is gripping. Lounging in a lush meadow outside London, university lecturer Joe Rose (Daniel Craig) produces a bottle of champagne in order to propose to girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton). Just before the cork is popped, a bright red hot air balloon crashes nearby, skidding along the grass. A small boy remains inside the gondola while a man tries desperately to control the unwieldy behemoth. Joe runs to the rescue. Several others appear virtually out of nowhere. Grabbing the ropes, it looks like the would-be heroes have brought the balloon under control. Then, the unthinkable happens. The balloon begins to ascend, and all but one of the men let go of the ropes. Looking on in horror, Joe, Claire and the others watch the last man swaying on his thread. The balloon climbs higher and higher, and finally the man cannot hold on any longer.
Joe never mentally recovers from the accident, harboring tremendous guilt about his own inability to keep the balloon on the ground. Withdrawing into himself, the strain begins to infiltrate Joe’s relationship with Claire. One of the other accident witnesses, the lanky, disheveled Jed (Rhys Ifans) begins to pop up with unsettling frequency in Joe’s life, and then things really go downhill. Jed is a typical movie bogeyman – the kind who always happens to be watching from the park across the street, or holding up a photo of the protagonist’s girlfriend, or having lunch at the next table in the restaurant. When the movie should be examining Joe’s psychological scars and his relationship with Claire, it descends into cheap slasher territory.
“Enduring Love” does not even make it to the halfway mark before the audience begins to anticipate every predictable turn. Jed secrets himself among Joe’s students and pops up in class to warble a few bars of “God Only Knows” (for which Brian Wilson is surely owed the deepest of apologies). Claire can’t take Joe’s brooding anymore. The editing and photography become so self-consciously arty that seemingly, rain begins to pour in every other scene. Frantic, midnight searches of websites are made. The unavoidable “stalker’s shrine” is discovered. Everything crashes harder than the opening scene’s balloon.
By the time the laughable coda is tagged on, viewers might feel as disconnected from the film as Joe does from his emotions. The actors have been wasted, especially the brilliant Morton, who deserves so much better than her role here as the long-suffering, supportive helpmate. Additionally, Ifans is too obvious as a goony lunatic, which makes much of what transpires hard to take: any normal person would have taken out a restraining order against him after the first nutty encounter. As it is, viewers should make sure to stay at least fifty yards away from this movie at all times.
This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 11/29/04.