On a serene English countryside, a young couple picnics as a hot air balloon, apparently out of control, appears in the background. There is a young boy inside, and several men nearby attempt to ground it by grasping the ropes on its basket even as they are lifted off the ground. As the balloon rises higher, the men begin to let go, but one holds on too long and falls to his death. The stunning opening sequence of “Enduring Love” is one of the year’s best. It juxtaposes the beautiful landscape and the disturbing accident to full dramatic effect. The film that follows triumphs as a skillful psychological thriller filled with suspense.
Roger Michell (“Changing Lanes”), “Enduring Love,” adapted from the novel of the same title by Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan, directs a taut and evocative character study that doubles as a thriller with great success. It considers the effects of the balloon accident on one of its survivors, Joe (Daniel Craig, “Sylvia”). Initially, he is remarkably calm in the wake of the events that occurred. His sentiments change as another survivor, Jed (Rhys Ifans, “Danny Deckchair”), begins to turn up in his daily life a bit too often to be mere coincidence. It becomes clear that Jed wants something from Joe, constantly suggesting that there is a bond between the two men. Much to the dismay of his girlfriend (the superb Samantha Morton, “In America”), Joe quickly becomes obsessed with the outcome of the accident and his stalker, whose presence becomes increasingly disturbing.
On one level, “Enduring Love” is a skillful but conventional take on the stalker-victim genre. It is effective in this sense because Jed’s motivations are never quite clear to the audience. He often speaks of God’s will, yet also appears to have a homoerotic attraction to Joe. The film does not fear ambiguity, allowing for many of its events to remain open-ended, which in turn creates an eerie atmosphere. Still, the thriller qualities of the film are secondary to its primary focus: Joe’s psychological downfall. Before the accident, he is a university lecturer on the eve of an engagement to his girlfriend. After, catalyzed by Jed’s ominous presence, he becomes obsessed with his involvement in the accident’s grisly outcome and the motivations of his stalker. Joe begins systematically alienating everyone in his life as his obsession leads him through a variety of subplots, none of which feel extraneous or unnecessary. His mental journey proves the most fascinating aspect of the film.
Michell favors silence over action. His low key, subtle style is prevalent throughout his body of work. “Enduring Love” is no different; it is characterized by its quietly disconcerting score, dim lighting and straightforward visual storytelling. Michell works with actors he is familiar with, but casts them in roles that are of stark contrast to those in his previous films. Most notable is the transformation of Ifans, best know for his turn as the underwear-clad oddball in Michell’s own “Nothing Hill.” He delivers a brilliant performance as the confused and disturbed Jed, a man whose seemingly boyish innocence makes his behavior all the more alarming.
“Enduring Love” concludes along the same countryside in which it opened. The long, scenic shots of the d