Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, Enduring Love is an interesting and unusual piece. Whilst out walking in the countryside Joe (Daniel Craig) and Claire (Samantha Morton) spot a hot air balloon piloted by a grandfather and his young grandson. A potentially deadly accident unfolds, the balloon ejects the grandfather and leaves the young boy watching on helplessly from the basket.
Joe and three other men who witness this unfold (a farmer, a doctor driving by and Rhys Ifans’ character, Jed) rush to secure the balloon, however, the young boy is too terrified to jump out while the balloon is a safe distance from the ground. One by one the men let go as the balloon climbs and fall safely to the ground except for the doctor, who continues to hold on in some vein hope of helping the boy. Then, as the balloon continues to climb his grip gives and he plummets to his death in a nearby field. The scene is brilliantly done, and the lack of any music really gives the whole opening a realistic and quite shocking feel. From there, the film becomes a fairly run of the mill thriller in the mould of Fatal Attraction, and it’s a real shame.
After Jed makes Joe pray at the body, it becomes clear Jed is a little unusual. At this point, the film appears to be taking a turn into an examination of how this traumatic event affects the strangers brought together by chance. Instead, Jed obsesses over Joe, who at first plays it off him struggling to cope with the accident. Jed’s increasingly alarming behaviour and sudden blackmail attempt (which is never followed up on), causes Joe to become increasingly angry and obsessed with finding out why Jed is stalking him. There are some interesting scenes again of Joe being preoccupied with balloon accidents, much to his girlfriend’s concern.
Is Jed all in Joe’s head? Is Jed in love with Joe? Was there a moment of cowardice on Joe’s part during the accident that led to a preventable death? Joe’s sanity is brought into question by Claire and his friends, however, their lack of regard for Joe’s genuine concern about Jed is a little weird, especially when it is obvious to them that he is being stalked.
The film is entertaining. As the mystery about Jed’s motive takes various turns it does keep you hooked and constantly guessing. Sadly, this does lead to an anticlimactic finish when the resolution is safe, perhaps even cliched at this point for the stalker-thriller sub-genre. The film is supposedly an examination of different forms of love, and some pretentious bits of dialogue thrown about by Joe seem to be an attempt at making it more than just a standard psychological thriller, but it just doesn’t hold up.
Despite its faults, the film is well directed by Roger Michell, especially the opening scenes, where the sunlit, idyllic country imagery juxtaposes the bizarre tragedy which unfolds. The highlight of the film though is Daniel Craig’s performance. He projects the right level of normalcy and vulnerability in the film’s first half before ramping up the character’s inward and outward torment as his frustration with Jed increases.
The film, or at least the premise, feels like a missed opportunity. It is based on a book, so the source material may have been lost in translation to the big screen but a film examining the shared trauma of the random strangers brought together by circumstance would have been much more interesting. Instead, the film feels confused and ultimately unsatisfying despite the entertainment value of its false promise to be something greater.