Reviewed by Harvey S. Karten Paramount Classics Grade: A- Directed by: Roger Michell Written by: Joe Penhall, novel by Ian McEwan Cast: Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans, Samantha Morton, Bill Nighy, Susan Lynch, Helen McCrory, Andrew Lincoln, Corin Redgrave Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 10/18/04
Are you the type who runs your daily business on autopilot–like the Michael Douglas character, Nicolas Van Orten in David Fincher's "The Game"? Remember how Van Orten, always calm on the exterior, is made to face real life when his brother put him into life-threatening situations? This is more or less the premise of Roger Michell's bold and captivating "Enduring Love," an opening up of Ian McEwan novel adapted for the screen by Joe Penhall. The principal subject is Joe (Daniel Craig), a professor in a London college whose angst-ridden lectures deal cynically with the subject of love. There is no such thing as love, he intones regularly to a class that should have started tossing spitballs his way whenever he got into that spiel. "There is only biology." Joe carries his viewpoint into his life with Claire (Samantha Morton), a successful sculptor with whom he lives but to whom he does not suggest marriage, as he appears to have no particular use for children and in one situation refuses to kneel and pray at the scene of a man who had just died in a gruesome accident.
"Enduring Love" is about ideas, the sort of film that's not a daily- affair these days. But to the credit of the cast and crew, the ideas are given a hefty life, just as Michael Moore did in his political viewpoints in "Fahrenheit 9/11." The ideas are not about politics, however, but about love, the subject most often dealt with in Hollywood as soap-opera sentiment or silly comedy. As Joe batters about his depressing, clinical philosophy–while at the same time recognizing that unlike his girlfriend who makes something with her hands that can be held unlike anything he does–we can get mighty irritated with the creep. The same in spades holds for the sicko, Jed (Rhys Ifans), a stalker whose regular unwanted visits will have the effect of turning Joe's life around.
Filmed beautifully Haris Zambarloukos in London and in the English countryside, "Enduring Love" takes us first to the sprawling green area around Oxford where Joe and Claire's picnic is rudely interrupted by a balloon in trouble. As the balloon bumps its way across the grass, Joe, Jed and others grasp the rope to level the basket, but as each man in turn lets go of the rope, the one person, a doctor who holds on, is aloft and dies in the inevitable fall. Joe is plagued by guilt for letting go first, a guilt that is seized upon by Jed who makes frequent, unannounced visits to Joe with the aim of getting the professor to ‘fess up to his immorality in that situation.
As Joe becomes increasingly unhinged by the visitor, he appears to have a nervous breakdown, smashing objects, harshly criticizing his girlfriend, even letting his outside life seep into the classroom where his bemused students look uneasily at one another at their teacher's unusual antics.
Since Jed regularly insists that he loves Joe, the title of the film takes on a double meaning. How well can love endure? Can it be maintained even during a period of emotional crackup? On the other hand, how much love can we as human beings endure? If we're swamped by protestations of the emotion in others, can we maintain our sanity?
The suspenseful, tightly directed film opens up the novel by introducing a circle of Joe's friends, principally Robin (Bill Nighy) who, while perhaps an intellectual match for Joe has something else. He is I a happy marriage with three kids, a culture that frightens Joe while at the same time makes him envious. When Joe holds Jed's baby, he has a vision of what he's missing in his own relationship.
This dramatic, original take on the major subject of film and theater–love–is given in-your-face emotion with a superb performance by Daniel Craig as the cynical professor, by Samantha Morton as his emotionally rooted girlfriend, and by the always reliable Rhys Ifans, whose Scottish accent and child- like demeanor lead to Joe's metamorphosis.
Rated R. 98 minutes. © 2004 by Harvey Karten @harveycritic.com
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