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Say Cheese: Jed (Rhys Ifans) makes a nuisance of himself in 'Enduring Love.'

Baloonatic

'Enduring Love' is an impatience-provoking film essay on the laws of attraction

By Richard von Busack

TRUE connoisseurs of disaster understand that tragedy must come out of only the bluest skies. Everyone remembers what a fair day Sept. 11, 2001, was. Enduring Love begins in a sweet Oxfordshire pasture; a professor named Joe (Daniel Craig) and his sculptor girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton) are picnicking and uncork a bottle of French champagne. That's when they notice a passenger balloon careening on the edge of the field.

Joe runs to the balloon's aid, as do several passersby on the roadside; they grab the trailing ropes and are lifted aloft. Inside the basket, a 12-year-old is frozen in panic, and he can't operate the controls. One man hangs on the longest and is dashed to the ground a half-mile away. Joe and a local man, Jed (Rhys Ifans), discover the shattered body of the would-be rescuer, surrounded by grazing sheep. This chance accident will almost destroy Joe, ruining his life in all its aspects. Jed begins to stalk the professor, demanding him to admit that something special passed between them in that sheep pasture.

Enduring Love is a deft title, defter than it looks: we don't know if the love in question is eternal, or if it's an affliction that has to be endured. Unfortunately for romantics, Roger Michell's adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel concerns the latter kind of love. The match between Joe and Jed is particularly ill made. Firstly, Joe is involved with a lady, although his moods and his guilty behavior since the accident are starting to drive her away. The real problem is that Joe's professorial lectures concern the idea of love as a biological trick. By contrast, Jed is gooshiness incarnate, shouting the lyrics of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" when he sees dour Joe. And Jed's appearance makes it unlikely that there was some genuine flicker of attraction in the professor's eyes. The semisane derelict has red hair he won't brush out of his eyes, and he never changes his favorite T-shirt of a Costa Rican frog flipping a peace sign.

As Jed, Ifans seems to be aiming for the look of Jesus in those sentimental religious postcards, where he's knocking on the door of the heart. Jed is so full of spiritual afflatus he could belch. Eventually, the only relief is imagining Eric Idle in the part, doing his persistent "Nudge, Nudge" character as he follows Joe around.

There comes a point in many movies where the viewer has to ask, For God's sake, why don't they call the police? Michell's direction grows erratic when he tries to wind up the thriller elements of the story. As in Michell's why-can't-we-all-get-along road-rage movie Changing Lanes, he fails to mix a deep-dish social critique with elements of a commercial thriller. And perhaps Joe doesn't call the police because Jed's not really a character, he's an essay topic. Jed embodies the mysteries of love that Joe denies as a scientist. But the mad Jed's openness to this grand emotion makes him capable of depth Joe can't understand. I watched this long, involved argument for moderation with the greatest impatience. On the bright side it's certainly a three-handkerchief movie for stalkers.


Enduring Love (R; 100 min.), directed by Roger Michell, written by Joe Penhall, based on Ian McEwan's novel, photographed by Haris Zambarloukos and starring Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans and Samantha Morton, opens Friday at selected theaters.


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From the November 3-9, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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