The Edge of Love
, 26 Jul 2008
Cinema began, because of technical limitations rather than artistic considerations, as a purely visual medium. If that were still the way films were made then The Edge of Love would be just about perfect. As it is the quality of John Mayburys film fluctuates wildly, going from awe inspiring to derisively bad.
It is quite simply astounding to look at. Maybury, cinematographer Jonathan Freeman and editor Emma E. Hicox combine their clearly estimable talents to make a film that looks unlike any other Ive seen this year. The first half of the film is simply breathtaking, from the eye-popping colour, to Mayburys inventive, detailed and stunningly artistic framing and the clever juxtapositions and beautiful pacing of the cutting this is an exercise in technical virtuosity. The look of the film evolves as it goes on, and the fast pace of London life, even during the blitz, gives way to the cold Welsh coast. Here the stock gets a bit grainier, the compositions a little more conventional (though there are still moments that drop the jaw in their beauty) and the general tone a bit harsher. Any filmmaker wants to tell you as much with his images as the characters do with their dialogue and in this Maybury more than succeeds. Which is perhaps one of the films bigger problems.
Sharman MacDonalds screenplay is a clunky, awkward thing. It never really connects its characters so, even though the four main players often find themselves living in close proximity to one another (even in the same house) they never feel like a unit, instead what we have are four individuals who seem to have drifted into the same frames to talk at each other. This creates a larger problem because in making it impossible to believe in these relationships the screenplay makes it impossible to care about them. For all the beauty on display, for all the invention on Mayburys part and the rapt attention the visuals held me in I didnt care about a single frame of this movie.
Keira Knightley is, to be kind about it, a deeply variable actress, but when she last worked with Maybury on The Jacket she turned in an excellent, hard edged, performance that, for my money she hadnt come near topping since, until this film that is. Knightley is at the very centre of the film, and appears in almost every scene, and has some pretty challenging work to do. She meets and even exceeds the challenge making the strong willed Vera a fascinating character to watch and doing her rather complex character arc justice. Its also worth noting the vocal challenges of the role. First of all theres the Welsh accent; its a little sing songy, a bit cliché, but it is authentic and well done. Even more impressive is her singing, all done live on set, and all of it really rather lovely. Also turning in fine work is Cillian Murphy as Knightleys soldier husband. Murphy is always good value and the film really falters in the 45 minutes in the middle when hes off screen fighting the war.
Sadly the other half of the central quartet is not so good. While Keira Knightleys accent clearly comes direct from Swansea Sienna Miller takes us on a vocal tour of the British Isles with her every sentence. Theres a Welsh bit, then that word is English, oh theres some Irish too. Its a real shame because she seems to be working so hard on the accent that shes forgotten that shes also supposed to be acting. Worst, disappointingly, is Matthew Rhys as Dylan Thomas. He shuffles around in the background of most scenes, and even when spotlighted he makes little impression. Rhys seems almost intimidated by the part, as if he cant quite decide what to do, and so opts for
not very much, really, which further undermines the story by making Thomas so uninteresting that you cant see for a moment why these two women, who seem intelligent enough, put up with him.
In the end The Edge of Love just sort of sits there, as visual art it is amazing, as a story and as a piece of entertainment it is sorely lacking, but the visuals mean it scrapes an extra star.
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