As the film opens, Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys)
There's something infectious about how carefree and inseparable its three central characters are in their days together in London, despite the looming threat of the Luftwaffe. The brightness of its spark dwindles once The Edge of Love scuttles over to Wales, though. It's there that the tension between Dylan, Vera, and Caitlin comes to a head, but the barrage of heartbreak and infidelity seems like too much of a dour soap opera. It wasn't the characters themselves but the relationships between them that most interested me in the film's sunnier moments, and stripping that away doesn't leave much to latch onto. As terrific as so much of Sienna Miller's performance is in this stretch of the film, Caitlin is too bipolar to make for a compelling arc. She'll be sobbing in anguish in one scene -- puffing away at a cigarette or tearing out the stitches on her forehead -- and then gleefully bounding around on a beach the next...seething with jealousy and resentment at Vera one moment with seemingly all forgiven minutes later. I'm certainly not saying that Miller should've settled for more of a one-note turn, but if there were some hesitance in her happiness -- if we could glimpse some glimmer of Caitlin reconciling her fury with her friendship -- then perhaps that would've added some much-needed dimension. Keira Knightley is, as ever, a seamless fit into this period piece; her presence and timeless beauty slinks comfortably into any era. Matthew Rhys makes for a charming lout, and his only real purpose in the film is to be just appealing enough for the women in his life to overlook just how thoroughly repulsive
One dramatic issue is that Cillian Murphy disappears for such an exceedingly long time. He's handsome and charming enough at the outset, to be sure, but there's something rather forgettable about William as well. The Edge of Love can barely be bothered to remember that he's on the warfront as its three other characters make their way to Wales, and though William returns almost unrecognizably changed, he's not any more compelling. Despite being based on a once living, breathing man, this second take on William comes across as more of a cinematic construction than a proper character, and he just seems to get in the way of the third act more than anything else. I'm a great fan of Cillian Murphy's, but The Edge of Love really doesn't play to his strengths.
As heavily praised as the lead performances have been, I have to admit that they struck me as overly theatrical -- exaggerated as if the cast is trying to play to the back rows of the playhouse too. The Edge of Love coasts too much on the names on the marquee as well, and the actors are more charming than the characters they're portraying. The film can't decide if it's about the intense bond and romantic rivarly between these two women, a glimpse at wartime away from the front, the lingering aftereffects of the horrors of war, a soapy love story about passion and infidelity, a narrowly focused biopic...it's instead a muddled mash of all of the above. As compelling as so much of The Edge of Love is at the outset, the film meanders aimlessly in its second act, and building up to a wholly uninteresting climax in a courtroom certainly doesn't leave it ending on a strong note. Director John Maybury seems more intent on indulging his stylish visual eye than the narrative, far more fascinated by mirrors and kaleidoscoping reflective surfaces than nuanced storytelling. My preference is to feel immersed in this sort of period piece -- to escape into it -- but Maybury never ceases to remind me that I'm watching a movie, and not a particularly remarkable one at that. Rent It.
The Edge of Love is a mixed-media production, with the stretches in London lensed on digital video and the scenes in Wales captured on 35mm film. The differences between them are noticeable but not jarring, and this is just part of the way in which director John Maybury visually distinguishes between the movie's two primary backdrops. Though some moments are cast in a diffused glow, and sharpness can be a touch uneven in Wales, The Edge of Love is generally wonderfully crisp and detailed. The closeups of Keira Knightley singing in the tunnels underneath London in particular are jaw-dropping, and much of the film does boast a convincing sense of depth and dimensionality. The Edge of Love also sports a stylized palette, draining away much of the color and casting what's left in sepia, a metallic gray, or an icy blue. Only the candy-colored hues as Vera sings underground stand out as particularly bright or vivid. Though some of Maybury's stabs at style come off as rather obnoxious, The Edge of Love does translate beautifully to Blu-ray, and the film benefits greatly from the additional resolution that the format offers.
The film is very lightly letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and The Edge of Love has been encoded with AVC. Its bitrate is unusually low; even with a lossless soundtrack in tow, the nearly two hour movie is condensed into the space of just 17 gigs. Viewers with particularly large displays or are prone to sitting especially close to their sets may spot some minor stutters with the compression. There's mild artifacting around the text in the opening titles, for one, although it's really not noticeable at a more traditional viewing distance.
The Edge of Love is bolstered by an above-average 16-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The immersive sound design is brimming with color in the surround channels, and there's frequently a wonderful sense of directionality. When Caitlin drunkenly tumbles off a bicycle, for instance, the sound of an upended, still-spinning wheel lurches from the left-rear speaker while a car engine rumbles to the right. The mix generally has little cause to be particularly flashy, but it's at its most aggressive, of course, when fleshing out the havoc wreaked by the Luftwaffe's shellings. The lower frequencies are thunderous and devastating, and the assaults take full advantage of all of the channels it has on-hand. As The Edge of Love is a film with a renowned poet as a central character, it's essential that its dialogue be rendered cleanly and clearly, and there are expectedly no concerns with intelligibility anywhere throughout.
A traditional Dolby Digital 5.1 track has also been included alongside subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish.
The Final Word
Competent but routine, The Edge of Love is hindered by its muddled, scattershot focus. There's a considerably stronger film about the bond between Vera and Caitlin trying to claw its way out, but it's weighed down by soapy subplots and a more sprawling scope that remains just out of reach. Rent It.