Saturday, November 1, 2008
The Edge of Love **
Director: John Maybury
Cast: Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, Cillian Murphy, Matthew Rhys
Loosely inspired on events in the life of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (Rhys), "The Edge of Love" is a period romance striving hard to become this year's literary masterpiece, specifically "Atonement" (hell, even their ad campaign compares itself to Joe Wright's film).
It opens in London during the Blitz were the luscious singer Vera Phillips (Knightley) performs in an underground venue, almost making people oblivious to the horrors going up above them. She runs into Thomas at a bar after a decade long absence. The poet was Vera's first love and as she starts to rekindle her feelings for him she meets his wife Caitlin (Miller).
Despite their inherent rivalry the trio begins a strange relationship, even moving in together, until Vera begins receiving the attentions of dashing soldier William Killick (Murphy) who she consequently marries to the disapproval of Thomas and without being convinced she really loves him.
William then is sent to combat, leaving his wife behind as she battles between who is it she really loves, with the hopes she chooses him in the end.
What should've been a traditional romantic plot is turned by director Maybury into a stale essay of the consequences of war and an unflattering portrait of Thomas.
Most of the events seem like excuses for cinematographer Jonathan Freeman to lens everything in a stunningly beautiful light; and truly who are we to complain when everything looks as if a vintage postcard had come to life?
But while the actors look at their best, the characters remain drained of any real emotion and motivation.
This happens because most of the plot turns around two notions: first that Thomas exudes such charm and is so irresistible that he can inspire two smart women to live in platonic poligamy while truth is that Rhys' performance is so uninspired that he can't even pass off as even talented for most of the film, much less impossible to live without, and we're supposed to buy his mad genius just because others say it's there. The second notion is that William is such a disposable character that the simple hope of an "I love you" can be the engine for his life.
In a way Thomas is a modern character, extracted from a contemporary film while William plays out like a Robert Taylor character of the era.
And it's truly a shame that the film fails to involve us emotionally because the women are exquisite. Miller had never been so visceral and rapturous, she almost disappears into Caitlin and in some demanding scenes she underplays her every move.
Knightley on the other side just keeps on growing as a performer, here she sings, beautifully (Angelo Badalamenti's compositions suit her perfectly) and during one key moment after an air strike hits London, she goes from frightened to sensual (and convinces you that she must be cast in a musical soon!).
The rest of the film has her rehashing her role from "Atonement", especially every time she whispers that "come back to me" line; but near the end you realize her character has turned into a full blown woman.
Maybury's debut film was also a free spirited take on the life of a celebrated artist, they both were visually daring and had some remarkable performances, but were emotionally drained.
It's sad and disappointing that "The Edge of Love" barely stays on the sidelines.