Dec. 08, 2004 - Issue #477: Bukowski
Stalker vexes stranger
Rhys Ifans plays a weirdly sympathetic stalker in Enduring Love
The new movie Enduring Love is a stalker story too (it’s based on a novel by the dark prince of the British literary scene, Ian McEwan), but what’s unusual about it is that it’s less interested in generating cheap suspense than in examining what unites us as human beings. Is it possible that two perfect strangers could share a stronger bond than a man and a woman who’ve been sharing the same bed for several years?
That’s what Jed (Rhys Ifans), a shaggy-haired Christian with a disturbingly beatific smile, believes when he first locks eyes with Joe (Daniel Craig), a university professor and committed skeptic. The two men meet under bizarre, traumatic circumstances: they’re both passing a peaceful afternoon in a field just outside Oxford when a runaway hot-air balloon appears on the scene. A young boy is trapped inside the basket, and his grandfather is grabbing onto a dangling rope, frantically trying to bring it back to earth long enough to allow the boy to escape. Joe, Jed and a couple of other men, almost unthinkingly, join in the rescue effort, but the scene ends in disaster as the balloon suddenly surges back into the sky and one of the other men falls to his death.
Director Roger Michell (a versatile talent who’s made Hollywood star vehicles like Changing Lanes and Notting Hill as well as more modest British films like Persuasion and The Mother) does a smashing job shooting this chilling sequence—the action is disorienting, almost surreal, and yet every image and every edit feels razor-sharp, and the rich colours (the green of the field, the blue of the sky, the red of the balloon) have the purity and brightness you only find in nightmares. You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing, and Joe spends the rest of the movie not quite able to shake off the experience, convinced that if he’d only hung onto the balloon a few moments longer, he could have prevented the tragedy.
And Jed won’t let him shake off his memories, either. He persists in following Joe around—snapping photos of him as he shops, sitting in on his lectures, loitering around his house, unable to understand why Joe keeps telling him to get lost instead of admitting to the obvious: that he and Jed have a divine connection, a pure, perfect love sanctioned by God above.
After that great opening sequence, Michell’s direction becomes a little too arty and calculated for its own good—he keeps sneaking red, round objects into the frame whenever Joe starts thinking about the balloon incident. But he gets excellent performances from his well-chosen cast: Daniel Craig has a cold, aloof quality that’s perfect for Joe (although it makes him a somewhat alienating lead actor), Samantha Morton is, as always, completely convincing as Joe’s sculptor girlfriend Claire, and the great Bill Nighy is a welcome presence as Joe’s down-to-earth friend Robin. (An actress named Helen McCrory is also exceptional in a small but pivotal role as the dead man’s widow.)
Rhys Ifans, meanwhile, makes the smart decision to underplay Jed, which is probably the only approach that could have made overripe scenes like the one where he sings “God Only Knows” to Joe in front of his students seem even halfway plausible. And I really like the way Ifans handles the climactic scene where he shows up in Joe’s house and threatens Claire—this could have been a clichéd confronting-the-psycho bit, but Ifans plays the scene with a weird, offhand grace that doesn’t betray a trace of self-consciousness. It never occurs to Jed that he’s behaving like a crazy person; he has the calm of a perfect angel.
The notion that being stalked can lead to a spiritual reawakening is goofy to say the least, but Enduring Love is made with enough skill to almost make it seem like a fairly reasonable proposition. V
Directed by Roger Michell • Written by Joe Penhall • Starring Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans and Samantha Morton • Opens Fri, Nov 19
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