(R) 3 1/2 starsEd Johnson-Ott
Enduring Love has a corker of an opening scene - an outrageous mishap that takes place one afternoon on a sunny British meadow. For those of you who loathe spoilers, I'll leave it at that for the moment and suggest that the low-key thriller is worth your time. It effectively hops between genres for a while - is it a psychological drama, a stalker movie or an ethical exercise? - before revealing its true colors for a final stretch that is obvious, yes, but still entertaining. Though the body of the film, which plays at AMC Castleton Arts through Thursday of next week, does not live up to its own beginning, it is certainly beguiling enough to warrant a visit. Rhys Ifans as Jed Parry in 'Enduring Love'
Fine, now that the spoiler-phobic readers have been addressed, we can get into the substance of the film a little bit. Don't worry, I won't spoil the ending. But I do want to revisit the beginning.
The story opens with two figures on a sea of green in Oxfordshire enjoying a picnic. Just as London professor Joe (Daniel Craig, in a rock-solid performance) is about to pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne with sculptress and housemate Claire (an underused Samantha Morton), a bright red hot-air balloon appears out of nowhere, its basket bouncing across the grass. A man falls out and immediately tries to retrieve a terrified boy still in the basket. After hesitating for a beat, Joe races to help and is joined by passersby. As colors flash against the sunlight, they nearly steady the balloon when a rush of air picks up the balloon and the rescuers with it. As it goes up, Daniel pauses another beat, then tumbles safely to the ground. The others do the same, except for an older man, a doctor, who clings onto a rope as the balloon rises up and up. Finally, he loses his grip and plummets to his death.
Masterfully choreographed and presented without intrusive music, the scene has an almost-documentary feel. The segment is immediate and scary; the shot of the doctor's fall - looking down on him from above - is horrifying and impressive.
Back home, a shaken Joe tries to sort through what happened. Claire seems to be handling it better, but then, she wasn't there, being pulled to the sky.
Typically, Joe spends his time massaging various chilly theories on relationships, but now he has something new to obsess about - did his decision to let go when he did cause the death of the doctor?
And also he has company now. Jed (an exceptional Rhys Ifans, Hugh Grant's scrawny flatmate in Notting Hill), another of the would-be rescuers, turns up to visit. A Christian who has difficulty expressing himself (post-traumatic stress or a chronic problem?), Jed clearly believes he belongs there. On subsequent visits, Joe's attempts to shoo Jed away become more obvious and Jed becomes more aggressive. His religious references now sound like threats, and not veiled ones. So what is Jed, Joe wonders, a fundamentalist zealot, a stalker, both or something else?
Claire, meanwhile, has heard few of the freaky remarks from Jed and wonders if her boyfriend is becoming paranoid. This, of course, makes Joe even more edgy, which in turn ... well, you get the idea.
Enduring Love examines post-traumatic stress, obsession, endangered relationships and more while deftly juggling genres until the last portion of the film, where more is revealed. When I learned what was primarily driving Jed, I experienced a certain "been there, done that" disappointment. That said, the film handles it with style and spirit. Dark and uneven, Enduring Love offers more than enough off-kilter treats to make up for its liabilities.