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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Movie review: Enduring Love ***

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Enduring Love is a movie about the choices people make and the repercussions of those choices.

It is also a movie about a stalker.

The juxtaposition of the two themes, along with director Roger Michell's deliberate pace, make Enduring Love unsettling and haunting.

It opens with the camera slowly panning over a perfect landscape: The tidy fields are impossibly green, the clear skies so blue they might have been painted by a master artist.

Two tiny figures appear. They are lovers Joe and Claire, having a picnic.

As Joe prepares to open the champagne, Claire gazes at him lovingly. Then he notes that she is no longer paying attention. She is looking over his shoulder at a hot air balloon that seems to be landing.

No, it's not landing. It's in trouble. The balloon's basket hits the ground at an angle and a man falls out, leaving a child inside. The balloon starts to lift off, and the man grabs a rope, trying to anchor it. Joe runs to help.

Other men show up and grab ropes, but the balloon is determined to rise, taking the men with them. One by one, each makes the choice to let go and fall to safety.

Except for one.

The would-be rescuers watch in fascination as the last man hangs on long past the point of no return, until his inevitably fatal fall shakes them out of their reverie.

A man kneels to pray and asks Joe to join him. Joe demurs, saying he's not much for prayer. The man implores him and Joe tries to decline, a bit put off as much by the man's intensity as his stringy hair and scruffy appearance.

"Please," the man says. "Please."

Reluctantly, to appease him, Joe kneels.

Later, he describes the scene for friends at a dinner party, and it's obvious that Joe remains uneasy about the entire day. Could he - could they - have kept the basket closer to the ground if they had only held on a bit longer?

It somehow makes it worse to know that the balloon later landed safely and the child was safe. The victim, a doctor from Oxford, died in vain.

The dilemma cuts to the heart of Joe's existence, for he is a professor who teaches a course in love and ethics. And as his obsession with the situation grows, it begins to affect his relationship with both Claire and his students.

But Joe is not the only one with an obsession. The stringy-haired man who implored Joe to pray - his name is Jed - has one, too.

His obsession is Joe.

Jed believes that something passed between him and Joe when they prayed together, and he demands that Joe acknowledge it. When Joe refuses to see a connection, Jed is equally adamant that they are meant to be together, and he begins stalking Joe.

Joe goes to lunch; Jed is there. Joe goes home; Jed sits in the park across the street. Joe teaches; Jed is in the classroom.

Worse than the physical stalking is the mental. Jed's relentless presence means that Joe cannot begin to allow himself to accept the accident as simply that. He is determined to find answers, and when he begins his search, the answers he does find aren't what he expects.

Enduring Love starts with questions about the meaning of life and turns into a thriller. The catch is that the change is relatively seamless.

That's mostly due to Rhys Ifans, who plays Jed and whom Michell directed in Notting Hill, where Ifans played Spike, Hugh Grant's clueless roommate.

Yes, that Ifans.

But there is no hint of Spike in his portrayal of Jed. His body is still long and lanky, but his face is a little puffier, almost doughy, waiting to be molded into whatever it takes to get Joe to want him. His manner is so quiet that even when Joe determines that Jed is clearly mad, others don't see it that way. Jed is so soft-spoken and looks so ineffectual that outsiders, including Claire, believe him to be an object of pity or even sympathy, someone just looking for a human connection.

Joe is played by Daniel Craig and Claire by Samantha Morton. Each gives a nuanced performance that adds to the film's credibility.

There are a few missteps in Enduring Love, which is based on a novel by Ian McEwan, notably Michell's pacing, which often shifts from deliberate to plodding, and some leaps of logic that are probably more pronounced because most of the movie is a study in logic.

What is not a misstep are the questions it asks. Did Joe let go too soon? Did the doctor hang on too long? What is love? Why?

And, perhaps the biggest of all, what would you have done?

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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