- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

“Enduring Love,” a British movie adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel, fails to preserve either human interest or thematic coherence. Ultimately, only the ghoulish or scatterbrained may find this battered parable intriguing.

To be fair, the start is eerily intriguing, even though director Roger Michell leaves some curious gaps. We’re set up for an early shock in an unexpected setting, but seemingly minor oversights become hints of a catastrophic dramatic breakdown. A chain of circumstances that invites serious reflection about chance, fate and heroic responses is reduced to grotesque dependence on one bewildering, rampaging nut case.

While picnicking on a sweeping Oxford meadow, a couple played by Daniel Craig and Samantha Morton — a psychology professor named Joe and his fiancee Claire, a sculptor — have sudden cause for alarm: From out of nowhere a hot-air balloon is careening across the field.

Joe and three other bystanders converge from different directions in an impulsive attempt to catch the errant machine and slow it down. Gusts of wind lift rescuers as they cling to restraining ropes. The balloon is lifted well above the ground, and one man fails to release his grip in time. The survivors discover him, hideously crushed from the waist down, soon after the balloon drifts away. According to a later update, the young operator regained control somewhere out of story range.

One of the rescuers, Jed (the reliably bedraggled Rhys Ifans), is initially singled out for piety. Coming upon the victim, he begs Joe, whom he seems to regard as a divinely inspired leader of the rescue party, to join him in prayer. Reluctantly, Joe fakes it. Mysticism is so alien to him, we discover, that he thinks of humans with misanthropic severity, as fundamentally “stupid organisms.”

Jed seems to crave friendship and refuses to accept repeated brushoffs. He keeps turning up and grows pathologically belligerent. This development proves as calamitous as the balloon ascension. The initial reading of Jed is harmlessly pathetic: Perhaps he needs to share a heart-to-heart talk with Joe about the terrible event that brought them together.

One can envision such a conversation as a revealing, dramatically effective device. While it’s still sympathetic, the movie seems to be concerned with how people of different temperaments and outlooks can torment themselves after witnessing a calamity. It’s genuinely painful to observe feelings of doubt and futility in people who responded bravely in a life-threatening situation. Indeed, it’s humbling to think that they’re despondent because they couldn’t do more to cheat death.

We see Joe attempting to re-create the accident scene with mathematical calculations and miniature balloons. It might have been even more useful to see him consulting balloonists. Far from resolving the imponderables that seem to bother Joe and Jed from opposite standpoints, the movie veers into vindictive and predatory paths. Helen McCrory turns up as the victim’s widow, nursing a grudge about infidelity. Jed degenerates into a lurid public nuisance, approaching Joe as if he were a rejected lover, and then a lethal threat.

If there weren’t so many other candidates, “Enduring Love” might rate as a demented classic. To its misfortune, going haywire without a decent accounting is almost standard operating procedure at the moment.

**

TITLE: “Enduring Love”

RATING: R (Occasional graphic violence, profanity and sexual candor; morbid thematic emphasis)

CREDITS: Directed by Roger Michell. Screenplay by Joe Penhall, based on the novel by Ian McEwan. Cinematography by Haris Zambarloukos. Production design by John-Paul Kelly. Costume design by Natalie Ward. Music by Jeremy Sams

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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