In the remarkable opening scene of Enduring Love, Joe (Daniel Craig) and Claire (Samantha Morton) enjoy a romantic picnic in a field. Joe is about to propose when a hot air balloon suddenly descends, drifting clumsily to earth. The balloon is out of control, with a boy trapped in the basket, so Joe and three other men rush over to help.
They each grab a rope, and after much effort they seem to have the balloon grounded -- until suddenly a gust of wind seizes it, and three of them let go. As the balloon soars away, we see the last man hanging on, and then falling to his death.
Joe is deeply troubled by this incident, as he suspects he might have been the first person to let go. The accident brings another problem: Jed (Rhys Ifans), who also let go of the rope, now feels that he and Joe have some kind of special connection.
Unfortunately, it's at this point the film loses its way, and we’re still in the first half hour. Jed thinks the experience means he and Joe have fallen in love and begins following him everywhere. Joe starts going insane under this pressure and struggles to maintain his relationships and career.
The film is an adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel, in which perhaps the plot and characters are more successfully explained. On film, however, the story quickly becomes ludicrous. Joe seems tormented by Jed, yet never makes any meaningful effort to get rid of him. Instead, he drives away his own friends and girlfriend, for no apparent reason beyond a general sense that he’s highly stressed.
The problem with Enduring Love is that it seems much more interested in vague themes than in its characters, so the screenplay is littered with pretentious speeches about the nature of love and evolution. None of these moments appear to come naturally from the characters, and the script’s treatment of these themes emerges as simplistic and willfully gloomy.
Daniel Craig and Rhys Ifans try hard to invest some humanity into thanklessly absurd roles; Bill Nighy and Samantha Morton fare better with the more plausible secondary characters. Notting Hill director Roger Michell shoots the film with some style, but he never manages to conceal the falseness of the script. In hindsight, the opening scene seems particularly apt, as the film itself is little more than hot air.
(Released by Paramount Classics and rated "R" for language, some violence and a disturbing image.)