The Edge of Love (Capitol Films, NR)

film_edge-of-love_sm.jpgCan we just agree now that there should be a moratorium on intercutting scenes of childbirth with those of wartime amputations?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It must have sounded like a can’t-miss project: make a film based loosely on real events involving a young and handsome Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys), two lovely ladies (Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller) who share his affections (and perhaps each other’s, as well), and a handsome soldier (Cillian Murphy) who loves one of the women but also enjoys the intimate company of the other. Set it in London during the Blitz, shoot it in sepia tones with top-notch period sets and costumes, keep everyone attractive no matter how boorish their behavior, and don’t hesitate to mine the ample store of either time-tested wartime clichés or the conventions of arty cinematography.

While all the pieces are there for an intriguing film, John Maybury’s The Edge of Love never really becomes anything. It seems meant to be impressionistic rather than straightforwardly narrative, yet its scattered moments are not sufficiently intriguing to justify its 110 minutes (it might have made a great short film, however). And none of the characters are ever established in our minds strongly enough to make their behavior interesting; it always seems like the real movie is just about to start and then we’ll realize why we are watching.

There are some great moments in The Edge of Love; however, beginning with the opening shot. Keira Knightley’s lips fill the screen (there’s so much lipstick in evidence that the film should have been sponsored by L’Oreal), and the camera pulls back gradually to reveal that she’s singing, in Hawaiian costume and accompanied by a band and lighting crew, in a London tube station full of refugees from Hitler’s bombs. It’s a great way to establish time, place and one of the leading characters; too bad the director feels the need to return again and again to the same well. Close-ups of Knightley’s face, lovely as it is, are much overused, as are bombs which appear on cue to add some excitement when the plot is flagging.

The most interesting part of the story involves the bond which forms between Vera Phillips (Knightley) and Thomas’s wife Caitlin (Miller). They both know that Thomas is a no-good handsome devil and form a sort of mutual support society with each other, which is more powerful than anything the men in their lives have to offer. Thomas, full of charm and frequently spouting his poetry, feels no need to apologize for his philandering; his justification is, "I sleep with other women because I’m a poet, and a poet feeds off life!"

Murphy’s character William Killick is the weak link in the quartet, but fortunately he spends most of the movie with the Greek commandos, offering the opportunity for more wartime clichés (can we just agree now that there should be a moratorium on intercutting scenes of childbirth with those of wartime amputations?). He’s also given the thankless job of carrying the main narrative event of the film: returning home, perhaps a bit shell-shocked, to an apparent ménage-a-trois supported by his savings, he shoots up the house with a Sten which he conveniently forgot to return when leaving the service. The disruption of an actual dramatic event, after so much moment-to-moment meandering, destroys whatever coherence the ever film had.

Cinematographer Jonathan Freeman achieves a genuine period feel, and many individual scenes are attractive. It’s just a shame that he also felt the need to return so often to the same tricks, including attention-grabbing camera angles, shots through curtains, extreme close-ups which go out of focus, and camera pull-backs to reveal an unexpected context. Angelo Badalamenti’s music establishes the period and all the actors do a reasonable job, apart from some questionable accents. In the end, The Edge of Love is not so much a total loss as it is a disappointment; it could have been so much better. | Sarah Boslaugh

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