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19 June 2005

Enduring Love

Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans & Bill Nighy
Directed by Roger Michell (Notting Hill)

From Hollywood Video: "After a bystander helps to rescue victims of a hot-air-balloon crash, one of his fellow rescuers begins stalking him, threatening his sanity and his relationship with his fiancée."

I wonder if I would have chosen to watch this movie if I hadn't read and loved the book by Ian McEwan? I doubt it. It has a solid but rather low-key, all-British cast by a moderately successful director, but nothing about its description shouts "must rent". However, unassuming plots are Ian McEwan's specialty. A couple on holiday makes a wrong turn and wind up stalked by a sexual deviant. A child's accidental implication of a man for rape forever taints a dozen lives. And here, a hot air balloon accident turns into a story of obsessive love. These are McEwan's favorite themes - the universe of events that can follow one small decision and a macabre fascination with the unexpected.

I also wonder if I would have been more fascinated, more shocked by this movie if I hadn't known its secrets in advance. Probably. Especially with a novel that takes place primarily within the up-turned psyche of a single protagonist, the words inside the brain are key and serve to challenge film-makers. Daniel Craig, an up-and-coming possible James Bond, does a commendable job portraying Joe, a sane man attempting to deal with a terrible accident of fate and another man's unhinged fascination with him. Slowly - first with kind words, then with more forceful words, and finally with violence - he reaches his own brutal center as circumstances strip away the niceties of the every day. How do you talk rationally with an irrational person? What if they never stop talking to you, wanting to be with you - what then?

Samantha Morton, along with Natalie Portman, has a way of screwing up her face in grief and confusion and wounded innocence that always moves me. Her secondary role is the counter-point to her fiancé's tales of a troubled stalker. Can't you just talk to him? Don't you think you should talk to a therapist? Words that would be sensible when dealing with a normal situation just serve to make Joe more angry and distant. Their relationship crumbles, with one particularly anxious birthday dinner - a scene containing hardly any words - highlighting their lingering troubles.

And then there is the balloon itself. I knew what was coming. The scene made me an instant fan of Ian McEwan, and I wanted to see how it would be handled. Well done, it turns out, but the surprise (for me) was lacking. More interesting was the spliced, tight cinematography leading to the film's climax, which heightened the sense of unreal claustrophobia and the nightmare of events so out of control.

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