Enduring Love Review

Ian McEwan’s bestselling novel Enduring Love (which I haven’t read) is notable for its opening sequence. Like novel, like film: the opening sequence is the most striking in the film, and although director Roger Michell, screenwriter Joe Penhall and a strong cast try their best, the remainder of Enduring Love doesn’t quite live up to it.

For science lecturer Joe (Daniel Craig) it was meant to be perfect. A gloriously sunny day in a field in Oxfordshire, a picnic and champagne with his live-in sculptor girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton). He intends to propose to her. But something goes wrong: a hot-air balloon out of control with a boy in it. Joe and other men try to rescue him, but the balloon lifts off into the air with one Dr Logan still hanging on, and he falls to his death. At first the incident becomes the stuff of dinner-table conversation for Joe, Claire and his friends Rachel and Robin (Susan Lynch and Bill Nighy). But then Joe is contacted by Jed (Rhys Ifans), one of the other men at the scene. He wants to meet up with Joe, but it soon becomes clear that Jed’s interest in Joe is much deeper and more obsessive…

The title has a double meaning: read the first word as either an adjective or the gerund form of a verb. Is there such a thing as love, Joe asks at one point, or is it a purely biological function, nature’s way of making us fuck? As Joe deals with Jed’s attentions, which soon become all-out stalking, his life begins to fall apart. This is very well done, but just a little too familiar from other films. There are a few holes in the plot. Why doesn’t Joe contact the police? (That one is answered in the deleted scenes, of which more later.) Also, Claire is something of a cipher, made more of in Morton’s performance than is in the script: she was a witness to the balloon incident, but appears not to be affected. In the two central roles, Craig and Ifans are excellent. Rhys Ifans is too often misused in other films, so it’s nice to see him get a proper role this time round. Roger Michell does well by casting some fine actors in relatively small parts: not just Nighy and Lynch but also Helen McCrory in a couple of scenes as Dr Logan’s widow, and Andrew Lincoln in a single scene as a TV producer whose lunch with Joe is interrupted by Jed.

But for all the acting strength on show, Enduring Love is a showcase for Roger Michell’s direction. He seems to be getting better with each film. At first his work is low-key, rarely moving the camera. As the film develops, he uses more mobile shots, sometimes going from a tight two-shot to a wider shot in a single movement. By the end, with tension at a high pitch, he often shoots the film at odd angles or handheld, or cuts when you don’t expect or fades abruptly to black, ably keeping the audience off balance. He also has a fine eye for London locations, making good use of the Tates Britain and Modern, not to mention less familiar places like a sculpture foundry in Limehouse. Jeremy Sams’s score gets louder as the drama intensifies. The editing of Nicolas Gaster and the camerawork of Haris Zambarloukos are also noteworthy. Enduring Love has a lot going for it, but somehow it doesn’t quite fulfil all its promise. Although well done, it’s possibly a little too familiar for its own good.

This DVD was reviewed from a checkdisc which was labelled “Rental Version”. As far as I can tell, it contains everything the retail version does, but begins with six trailers which can only be skipped by means of the chapter button on your remote. For the record, they are for forthcoming Pathé and Fox DVD releases: House of Flying Daggers, Dear Frankie, Creep, Sideways, Flight of the Phoenix and Kingdom of Heaven. These may, regrettably, be on the retail version as well.

Enduring Love is transferred to DVD in a ratio of 2.40:1. As this is a brand-new film you’d expect a top-notch transfer and that’s what you get. It has to cope with a wide range: the vivid green grass and blue sky of the opening sequence, not to forget the bright red of the balloon itself, which recurs as a leitmotif throughout the film. On the other hand, the transfer copes just as well with darkly-lit interiors, and shadow detail is fine. At moments it’s soft but is meant to be, and I didn’t spot any artefacting. I can’t fault it.

The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1. Like the film, it’s surprisingly low-key to start with, mostly coming from the centre channel with a few directional effects. Even the opening balloon sequence, which in other hands would become an all-channel workout, gets a restrained treatment. But as the film progresses, Jeremy Sams’s score becomes more dominating, and several rainfall sequences make more use of the surrounds.

There are twenty chapter stops. Subtitles are only provided for the main feature. The DVD is encoded for Region 2 only.

The main extra is an audio commentary: not just with Roger Michell as the packaging indicates, but also with producer Kevin Loader. It’s an informative commentary which covers most of the expected bases, plus adds some things that aren’t obvious from the feature. For example, Jed makes a few brief appearances in the early part of the film, that you’ll have to look for carefully to spot.

There are six deleted scenes, accessibly either singly or via a “Play All” option. They are in anamorphic 2.35:1 with timecodes appearing in the black bars, and run a total of 6:44. Some of them are very brief. As so often with this type of feature, you can tell why these were cut as they add little except length. The last one is a partial exception: Joe speaks to a officer but only gets patronised in return, and asked to talk it through with his partner to see what “he” thinks.

Burst is a short film directed by Olivia Peniston-Bird, who was the second assistant director on Enduring Love. It was obviously made during the film’s production as members of the cast and crew take acting roles; it has no other connection of with the main feature. Burst is a brief portait of an egotistical film star, told through “reality” footage and vox-pop interviews. It runs 6:23 and is in anamorphic 2.35:1. Incidentally, one use of the word “cunt” gives this short and hence the whole DVD package an 18 certificate. Enduring Love itself carries a 15 certificate. I doubt that the 15-18 age group is the prime audience for Enduring Love so won’t be hard done by. I simply doubt the wisdom of excluding fifteen-year-olds from a word they will have heard, and indeed used, many times. Also, the usage in this short film might be abusive in intent, but the language in the feature is far more aggressive and violent, even if it doesn’t make use of that one word.

The extras continue with three featurettes, “The Actor’s Story” (7:03), “The Film and Novel” (5:31) and “Filming the Balloon” (4:56). All contain the standard mixture of interviews with crew (mostly Michell and Loader again) and cast. Ian McEwan turns up on a discussion of how novels have to be “demolished” to make film adaptations and although he is quite happy to do this to other people’s novels he’s too close to his own work. The final featurette shows the shooting of the balloon sequence, which took up a large part of the film’s schedule and budget as it was done mostly for real. Any CGI work was to remove objects like cables instead of adding things.

Finally, there is an effective though spoiler-ridden trailer (16:9 anamorphic, running 2:24) and two TV spots, both 16:9 anamorphic and running 24 and 12 seconds. Just for once these are British TV spots, with UK certificates and release dates.

If it doesn’t quite hit the spot, Enduring Love is one of the better British films of last year, and Pathé have given it an excellent DVD release. The film didn’t get very wide distribution – I tried and failed to see it in the cinema as it wasn’t showing locally to me – so for other people like me my first chance to see this is on DVD.

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