October 6, 2008

On the Edge of Greatness

By CROOT, James

THE EDGE OF LOVE (M) Directed by John Maybury * * * Reviewed by James Croot --------------------

London, 1940. Like many others, underground chanteuse Vera Miller (Keira Knightley) is struggling to survive the German bombing of the city. When not lifting spirits down among The Tube she's trying to raise her own at the local watering holes. But it's at one of those that she encounters someone she never expected to see again. The first love of her life, Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) has become a famous poet and has adopted a posher accent since they last met, but is still the same charismatic man and still besotted with Vera, his "soul mate". However, there's just the small matter of Dylan's Irish wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller).

Those who like to think of cinema as art are in for a real treat with Edge. Superbly shot by cinematographer Jonathan Freeman (Hollywoodland), the film juxtaposes "god light" with dark, colour de-saturated rooms and plays with reflections, refractions and focus. Director Maybury (The Jacket, TV's Rome) also makes good use of handheld and point-of-view shots as well as home-movie style and archival footage to ensure there is always something interesting to look at, whether it's a nipple or Welsh coastline.

Which is just as well, for writer Sharman MacDonald's (Knightley's mother) muddy and muddled script never really fully engages. None of the characters are particularly likeable and placing the supposedly charismatic Thomas on the periphery seems a mis-step. This should have been as emotionally charged a love story as The English Patient or The End of the Affair but, drained of anything resembling colour or passion, it comes across as flat and inert. Maybury may have borrowed David Lynch's muse Angelo Badalamenti (Mulholland Drive) for the soundtrack, but he also appears to be aping the Montana maverick's obtuse and ethereal storytelling style.

In another version of this tale, we would probably have had Russell Crowe playing the Welsh wizard of words, but instead we have the underwhelming Rhys (TV's Brothers and Sisters) being overshadowed by an uneven Miller (Casanova), an underused Cillian Murphy (The Wind That Shakes the Barley) and an insubstantial Knightley (Atonement), struggling with an unconvincing Welsh accent.

A movie only on the edge of greatness.


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