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STARRING: Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans, Samantha Morton

DIRECTOR: Roger Michell

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

RATING: R for language, some violence and a disturbing image.

THE LOWDOWN: Lives cross and spiral out of control for two men who witness a freak accidental death.

Any movie character who thinks he's got it all figured out is just asking for it.

In "Enduring Love," a movie adaption of the Ian Mc-Ewan novel, it's Joe whose world is about to be blown apart.

Joe (Daniel Craig) is a university professor who has brought his sculptor girlfriend, Claire (Samantha Morton), to the English countryside for a romantic picnic. He has even brought a bottle of Dom Perignon, knowing she'll say yes.

Before he can propose, a hot-air balloon whooshes out of the sky and nearly crashes. Joe and three other men nearby rush to save the boy in the basket. The men end up hanging from the basket as the balloon floats upward. Realizing their efforts won't save the boy, three of them let go. The fourth floats higher and higher until he's unable to hold on. He falls to his death a few yards away.

In a sheep pasture, standing next to the gruesome body, one of the other survivors, Jed (Rhys Ifans) asks Joe to say a prayer. "That's not really my thing," he tells Jed. He does, however, and then goes back to his life in London, teaching college students that love is a biochemical reaction, an evolutionary trick to continue the species.

While Joe tries to put the accident behind him, Jed calls, urgently asking Joe to meet him. Joe does his best to end the contact then and there, but Jed insists "something has passed between them."

Refusing to be dismissed, Jed shows up at odd moments, demanding that Joe "just say it," insinuating himself into Joe and Claire's relationship and tugging at the threads of Joe's sanity. Soon Joe is driven mad, obsessed with anything shaped like a balloon, always waiting for his scruffy, brooding stalker to appear.

In the process, Joe nearly loses everything, including Claire, a character who is drawn so thinly that it's hard to remember that losing her would be a bad thing.

Craig does a brilliant job portraying an intellectual losing his faith in everything scientific and rational. He's mesmerizing as the prey who's helpless against the bizarre pleadings of this passionate madman.

Ifans' performance is, too, haunting, though in a more direct, emotionally bare manner. He's more frightening when you're still not sure what he wants from Joe.

Of course, at some point the viewer realizes Jed is just plain psychotic, and if witnessing this balloon accident didn't act as the trigger, something else would have. How exquisitely unlucky for Joe. His true desires are made known in a scene that squanders some of the story's power. It's a bit of a tawdry twist, but overall "Enduring Love" is a metaphysical thriller that will leave its mark.


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