Friday, 30 January 2009

2008 Film Reviews #6: The Edge of Love

The Edge of Love (John Maybury, 2008)

I must be clear here and state that 5/10 for The Edge of Love means something entirely different to 5/10 for The Thin Red Line. This is an Ebertism: as the 'most powerful pundit in America' says:

When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to Mystic River, you're asking if it's any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then (The United States of) Leland clocks in at about two.

A good system, I'm sure you'll agree. So, to put it in ever-so-slightly different terms, where Malick's film has many of the accoutrements of excellence, which it proceeded to waste, Maybury's slice of WWII lit-rom promised to be an exercise in Grade A uselessness. Before going to see it, I thought that there was absolutely no way that it could bear up to the expectations of someone writing a PhD thesis on its subject matter, namely the literature of the Blitz, let alone someone whose take on contemporary interpretations of that period is that they are generally opportunistic at best. Well, I was almost wrong. Matthew Rhys is more than acceptable as Dylan Thomas, and the frequently derided Sienna Miller was hugely convincing as Thomas's impulsive wife Caitlin. Even Keira Knightley, possible playing herself, survived the ordeal intact (as did the generally reliable Cillian Murphy). Maybury did well to limit his scope to the internecine relationships between the four main characters, thus limiting the likelihood of any serious historical vandalism, and most importantly resists the easy option of pulling punches when it becomes necessary to depict non-domestic events. Indeed, on three occasions - Thomas being beaten senseless by a soldier in the blackout, a direct hit on a busy nightclub (based on the Cafe de Paris incident in 1941), and Murphy's commando leader performing an emergency amputation on a Greek partisan - the film achieved a viscerality that poked through the sheen of its nostlagic stylisation. There's the correct level of 'unreality' here, as well: it seems that Henry Green and Elizabeth Bowen were more valuable reference points that Sarah Waters and Goodnight Sweetheart. Not bad, then, but there's still something a little cloying about it all, and the literary angle could have been played in a slightly less clichéd way: there was perhaps room for a further exploration of the contrast between Thomas the self-professed poète maudit and Thomas the BBC employee. This is touched on, but eventually seems to become little more than a partial character assassination.

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