The Golden Film of Ballooning

A clichéd stalker story benefits from some beautiful artistic vision in 'Enduring Love'

I love quiet. There's so little of it in this world, filled as it is with noisy bombs and simple-minded creationists and flatulent liberals and brick-layers. So I was doubly pleased to find that the opening sequence of Enduring Love was entirely devoid of music, which, while one of the great achievements of mankind, has been a bit overused by manipulative movie-makers.

In fact, Enduring Love has not only one of the most quiet openings I've ever seen, but also one the most beautiful and original openings I've ever seen. While picnicking on one of England's green and pleasant fields, a young couple (well, she's young; he's middle-aged, as is proper) sees a hot air balloon descending upon the glen. It crashes painfully to earth and expels an older man, while a young boy remains in the basket. Immediately, four men run to help, grabbing at the ropes that dangle from the sides.

Without making comparisons to things like heaven and naked gymnasts, it's hard to describe just how gorgeous this scene of a red balloon on a green field is. And its beauty is only enhanced by the absence of music and the use of on-site sounds: the heavy thud of the basket hitting the ground, the groans of the men as they try to rein it in, the horrifying whoosh of the hot-air apparatus shooting its flame up into the balloon, and then the silence as the balloon ascends again skyward.

It's worth the price of admission just to see this scene. In fact, this part alone would have made a great short film. Unfortunately, what follows can't quite live up to the opening, and instead of the wild originality of that sequence, we have a well-done, if fairly standard, stalker film.

Now, at last count, there were four stalker films made for every McDonald's hamburger ever sold. That would be four times billions and billions, for the mathematically inclined. That's, like, five too many. We've all seen the stalker film, and we all know that the rabbit gets boiled and the stalker gets a beat-down.

Nonetheless, there's a lot to recommend Enduring Love, in spite of its reliance on a cliché that's so cliché that it's become cliché to mention that it's a cliché. First off, director Roger Michell does an amazing job of packaging his story. His attention to sound puts him in the company of John Cage: The crunching of crunchy foods form the only soundtrack to a tense dinner sequence; amplified breathing brings out the anxiety in another scene; and the shuffling of feet in an echoey dining hall makes another segment both mundane and threatening.

Michell also gets performances out of his actors that are so convincing that I'd believe them if they told me that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Daniel Craig is especially good as Joe, an academic who, after his encounter with the balloon, finds himself stalked by Jed (Rhys Ifans), another man who was at the scene.

Ifans is a little over-the-top in his part, but I guess that's to be expected in the role of the deranged stalker (cf. Glenn Close et al). Samantha Morton does what she does so well in the role of Joe's girlfriend, Claire (that thing that she does well is "act." It's something that American trained movie stars should look into). And Bill Nighy, who is now in every English movie ever made, including those made before he was born, is as charming as ever. (If you don't know who Bill Nighy is, he plays That Old Guy in Shaun of the Dead, Underworld, Love Actually and I Capture the Castle.)

But what really makes Enduring Love tick is the great photography and sound design. Cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos, best known for his work in That Thing You Didn't See and Non-Commercial Film That Went Nowhere, really does an amazing job here. The shots are not only well framed and clear; they're also composed in ways that are not merely swipes from other films. If you watch enough movies, you come to see how rare that is.

I'm not sure who gets the credit for designing the look of Enduring Love, but whether it's director Michell, lensman Zambarloukos or some unholy conglomeration of the two, I can only hope that's something we'll see more of. The script, by Joe Penhall, from a novel by Ian McEwan, has a naturalness of rhythm that really works well in creating and sustaining suspense.

The only downside, really, is the story. Other than its flashy and thoughtful opening, this is ultimately a formula plot. The only twist on the old story is that the stalker is a man and the stalkee is another man, but with man-man love as common as voter fraud these days, that hardly seems like much to hang a tale upon.

Still, Enduring Love has enough going for it to make it worth the price of admission. If it had sustained the art of its opening sequence, it would have been worth much more than that.

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