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'Love' Can't Endure

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 5, 2004; Page WE37

THE OPENING SCENE of "Enduring Love," just as in the Ian McEwan novel on which it's based, is stunning. A spectacular calamity in the English countryside involving a hot air balloon, it turns the life of Joe (Daniel Craig) upside down. Called upon to make an instant, heart-in-the-mouth decision, he indirectly causes someone to lose his life.

Months later, he's haunted by what happened. Should he be blamed? His conscious mind tells him no. But a stranger (Rhys Ifans) reenters his life to tell him differently. His name is Jed. He was there at the balloon incident. Helped Joe take care of the dead man. They even prayed together. Now, Jed feels a fatalistic connection. And he believes Joe has something to get off his chest. He hovers outside Joe's window all the time, waiting for him to confess. At first Joe is polite with Jed, telling him nothing could be done. But Jed keeps coming back to harass him.

Rhys Ifans plays a stalker in "Enduring Love," a story about the aftermath of a hot air balloon accident, which begins promisingly but peters out. (Nicola Dove -- Paramount Classics)

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"Why can't you just say it?"

Jed's stalking, which increasingly seems to be romantically motivated, begins to affect Joe's relationship with Claire (Samantha Morton), his fiancee who was a witness to the incident. He starts to snap at her. Like it or not, Joe is forced to look back at what happened and to search himself. But what is he supposed to discover?

Roger Michell, who also made "Persuasion," "Notting Hill," "Changing Lanes" and "The Mother," directs with enormous sensitivity, carefully observing subtle moments and human gestures. Cameraman Haris Zambarloukos renders the characters in delicate light. And Jeremy Sams's score is rather lovely. It's the kind of impressive filmmaking that demands a good story. But although this script starts off with great zest, it's ultimately a disappointment: a film that's too effete to be a gripping thriller, then too pat and melodramatic to be truly smart.

Craig, who has shown his stunning abilities in a number of roles, from the Byronic Ted Hughes in "Sylvia" to the coke-sniffing troublemaker in "The Mother," is a highly watchable presence. But there's something empty about an intellectual who's out of touch with himself and walks around thinking It's All Meaningless. Why bother following this bloke around? Morton does a great deal with her role. But she, too, is hampered by script limitations. What's new and interesting about a sculptor who can't make sculptures of Joe because she keeps her lovers and subjects separate? As the quasi-messianic stalker, Ifans isn't much more than annoying and disturbing, a tousled nuisance you wish would just go away.

When Joe first begins to snap, he imagines a balloon shape in almost everything. And when he absent-mindedly inflates a rubber balloon, then releases it, the gesture's all too symbolic of the movie. It flutters around fitfully, still filled with air, then falls in a deflated heap in the corner.

ENDURING LOVE (R, 91 minutes) -- Contains violence, sexual situations, obscenity and a disturbing image. At Landmark's Bethesda Row, Cineplex Odeon Shirlington, N.E. Theatres Fairfax and Cineplex Odeon Dupont.

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