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The Edge Of Love
cast: Matthew Rhys, Keira Knightley, Sienna Miller, and Cillian Murphy

director: John Maybury

106 minutes (15) 2008
widescreen ratio 16:9
Lions Gate DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Ben J. Lamb
This is certainly a biopic with a difference. The difference being that Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) himself is probably given the least amount of screen time in relation to all the other prominent characters, instead of the filmic retelling of a life story in the traditional Walk The Line (2005) way - i.e. poor child discovers his talent, grows up but has to conquer an addiction, for the film to generally celebrate the brilliance of a well-rounded human being. No, instead the main focus of the film is on the quadrangular love story. Basically, Thomas prefers his childhood sweetheart Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley), instead of his wife Caitlin MacNamara (Sienna Miller). But the female characters love for the same man brings them closer together which complicates matters. Although Vera is certainly fond of Thomas she grows to love William Killick (Cillian Murphy) who is deeply changed by the horrors of the war. In his unhealthy paranoid mental state Killick aimlessly threatens the other three characters with a rifle. In the end, Thomas ruins everyone's lives. In court he testifies against his friend out of pure spite, saying that everyone was truly in fear for his or her life. Thus, Vera has no husband and has to bring the children up on her own, Caitlin has no friend and is trapped in a loveless marriage and of course Killick is put behind bars.

As you can probably tell the most astonishing thing about The Edge Of Love is the fact that as a drama/ biopic the film is incredibly unsympathetic towards its main character. A character that hides behind his poet status to exploit women is not a likeable one. This focus is admirable and I do think the filmmakers are partially successful. They do succeed in a study of the characters closest to Thomas. His little screen time means that the drama is given over to the tensions and feelings that were around him and influenced his work, which in turn drives the film's narrative. Rather than observing his life objectively we are plunged into it as the film recreates the mindset behind his poems. The Edge Of Love is also a study of love in a war torn society, and how it changes people and drives people and can ultimately produce children doomed to live trapped in a broken marriage. Love and the cultural hindrances and limitations that come with it and also mistaking love with the need for companionship will always be relevant issues.

However the film does feel a little confused as to which character should be at the forefront of our attention and thus loses focus. Similarly, the overall structure of the film is a tad disjointed. The first half of The Edge Of Love is undeniably the better half. Director John Maybury comes into his own with his very interesting visual style. His overt use of colour that floods the screen creates a dreamy atmosphere that is just as effective as David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945). His obscure camera angles and authentic backdrop suggest a director that has some masterpieces yet to come. An elegant score and flashes of visual brilliance set up a potentially deeply involving world of emotion. Most directors would simply create a bland piece of work with the material given but instead the talented Maybury's stark contrasts in lighting and colour effectively provides a juxtaposition of themes and ideas. All the insides of buildings are yellow, homely warmth set against the dark spooky unsettling colourless blitz on the outside. His treatment of WWII itself is very original and not dealt with for too long, as we have seen it on the screen far too many times before.

Despite these features Knightley's mum's (Sharman Macdonald's) script itself isn't as intelligent or as thought provoking as it thinks it is and doesn't quite live up the emotion or intelligence of Thomas' poetry itself. The sombre pace becomes too bland and often muddled. The second half descent does not compare well to the start and feels mandatory rather than needed and takes away any true originality.

The film also suffers from its release date. The similarities to Oscar and BAFTA nominated Atonement (2008) are just too apparent. Knightley even has to say the exact same line "come back to me" more than once with nowhere near as much emotional conviction or poignancy. Also the film is quite problematic, as it doesn't make sense why these attractive intelligent and talented women are falling over themselves for Thomas. This needed to be dealt with and would have made the downfall far more devastating.

Although it has to be said that, as well as the direction, the strong performances from all the actors does in fact help detract our attention away from these flaws. Matthew Rhys perfectly captures the character of Thomas. But most importantly this is a coming-of-age role for Knightley. Not so wooden anymore, she lights up scenes and is not just pouting to get her through the film but is frivolous, seductive and likeable. She even does her own singing for the role providing a well-rounded performance. She is not necessarily a bad actress her true calling is just with traditional archaic films.

For the first half of The Edge Of Love, at least, there is an adequate balance between artistry and entertainment. But despite its skilled direction and solid performances the film just goes on for too long and lives in the shadow of the far more moving Atonement.

The special features include an informative albeit short ten-minute interview with the cast and crew, called Looking Over: The Edge Of Love, which discusses the themes of the film and the chemistry between the cast and crew on set. As well as a few deleted scenes, a short gag reel, and some photographs, the best extra feature is the extensive and in-depth audio commentary provided by John Maybury and Matthew Rhys.

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