Director Roger Michell scored a massive international hit with 1999's Notting Hill and another critical and commercial success with 2002's Changing Lanes, only to follow up with two low-budget literary adaptations whose grim tone and non-commercial subject matter feel like penance for doing well. If Notting Hill constitutes feel-good fare, Michell's The Mother and now Enduring Love qualify as feel-bad movies that pick at frayed nerves and emotional scabs.
Adapted from Ian McEwan's novel, Enduring Love opens with a horrific hot-air-balloon mishap that temporarily brings together strapping academic Daniel Craig and dippy Jesus fan Rhys Ifans. The opening accident claims a doctor's life, and while it doesn't kill Craig, he doesn't quite survive it, either. The event's aftermath continues to warp his fragile psyche, especially once Ifans begins showing up unannounced, demanding to talk to him about a bond he thinks they share. As the pathetic but creepy Ifans circles around him menacingly, Craig withdraws deeper into himself, alienating his friends and longsuffering girlfriend Samantha Morton in the process.
Operating in the same fearless vein as The Mother, Enduring Love mixes documentary-like verisimilitude with showier stylistic flourishes, but Michell's command of psychological complexity and novelistic detail gives the film its unnerving resonance. The sad little T-shirt that seems to make up half of Ifans' wardrobe, the sink full of dirty dishes in a distraught widow's kitchen, and the angry scraping away of food following a disastrous birthday dinner in which neither Morton nor Craig can muster the courage to say what they're feeling constitute just some of the telling details that make the film feel so lived-in. Enduring Love's plot inevitably drifts into Fatal Attraction territory, but its wholesale immersion in Craig's deteriorating condition render it a wrenching, uncompromising study of the human mind in freefall.