When a filmmaker directs a movie, he must be sure of exactly what he wants the film to be. Is it story-oriented, or is it a character-study? While there are films that manage to be both, most of them that try misfire…badly. Sadly, John Maybury’s WWII drama “The Edge of Love” is one of the latter. Even a quartet of strong performances can’t save a film that’s stuck in neutral.
Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys) is a womanizer who is married to the spirited Caitlin (Sienna Miller). They love each other, but both of them know that the other sleeps around. Enter Vera Philips (Keira Knightly), the childhood friend (and first love) of Dylan. Despite a rocky first encounter, the three become inseparable. Eventually, Vera marries a soldier named William Killick (Cillian Murphy), but soon after, William has to go off to the front again. The remaining three move back to Wales, Dylan and Vera’s home country. On the surface, they’re happy, but uncertainty, jealousy, and mistrust threaten to tear them apart.
This is a strong set-up for a character-based study of relationships, but the narrative is so choppy that the characters aren’t given room to breathe. Blame must go to both director John Maybury and screenwriter Sharman Macdonald (Knightly’s mother). The script seems half-finished; there are plenty of ideas here, but they never fully germinate. Maybury makes further mistakes by his mishandling of the material. With a strong director, the script may have been salvageable, but Maybury never effectively weaves together all the threads that make up the story. As it is, it’s just a series of half-baked ideas.
What’s especially tragic is that four stellar performances are wasted. Knightly, whose name in this kind of a movie makes one think of “Atonement,” a much better WWII romance, gives another knockout performance. The English actress gets better with every film she does, and it’s not going to be long before she ranks with the likes of Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett. Vera is an interesting character; she’s a very independent young woman, but she’s more vulnerable that she lets on (or maybe she doesn’t realize it).
Sienna Miller is also impressive as the equally independent Caitlin, but she is prone to jealousy; she frequently suspects that Dylan and Vera’s past love affair may have been rekindled. Making matters worse is her fierce love for Dylan. He may sleep around, but woe betide any woman who falls for him. Miller’s career has been on the rise for some time now, and this is another good performance to add to her resume.
The men are less central to the story, but no less important. Matthew Rhys is very good as the slimy Dylan. He is oblivious to the damage that his switching romances do to other people. One minute he professes love for Vera, the next for Caitlin. What’s especially interesting is that despite his selfish manipulation of the girls’ emotions, he’s still an amiable guy. Cillian Murphy’s part isn’t as juicy as the others’ (it’s the old heartthrob-turned-war torn hero thing), but Murphy is talented enough to keep things interesting.
The movie sounds a lot more interesting than it actually is. The first thirty minutes are so choppy that they’re a chore to get through, and the rest of the movie is static. What a shame…