): In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
So begins Dylan Thomas' "In my Craft or Sullen Art," a poem about the elusiveness of the inner muse, which resists being easily understood. Though its words never show up in John Maybury
's The Edge of Love, an absurdly stylized and utterly feeble supposition on the events that shaped the incomparable Welsh poet in war-stricken London, it points at the very heart of the film's artful damage.
As played by Matthew Rhys, who certainly looks the part, Thomas is a caddish drunk whose tongue can cast the most elegant of wit at will. He trades lacerations with his equally inebriated wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller
) and harbors some deep yearnings for his childhood friend Vera (Keira Knightley
) but can only find work writing agitprop screenplays for the government. Not satisfied by a simple love triangle, screenwriter Sharman Macdonald adds another cog to the drama by introducing William Killick (Cillian Murphy
), a soldier who woos, marries, and impregnates Vera before he goes off to fight ze Germans. Article continues below
Slow-burning verbal assaults and drink-driven tirades abound, as Maybury follows Thomas, Vera, and Caitlin out to the Welsh countryside while poor William handles the horrors of war, which includes the now-familiar battlefield amputation scene. The soldier returns numb towards his family and jealous of Thomas, while Macdonald fills him with enough rhetoric to fuel a half-dozen Edward Zwick romps, escalating into grim flashbacks and bouts of nervy violence.
Constructed as an exercise in imagery rather than a full-blooded biopic or character study, Maybury sobers-up many of the visual tricks he cooked up in his last film, The Jacket, and holds a kitchen-sink attitude toward composition. Based on half-truths, rumors, and, mostly, absolute fiction, the discombobulated narrative allows for effects-heavy editing and a series of gorgeously rendered single shots and glossy close-ups but has about as much to do with Dylan Thomas as it does the 1984 Summer Olympics.
The brutal sexuality that typified Maybury's Love is the Devil has been replaced with a lurid curiosity with Thomas' language; the film allows for all four characters to have at least one line of striking poeticism. While the director attempts to match the hallucinatory grandeur of Thomas' work with his overcrowded visual scheme, he has also boxed himself in by attempting to fit this great unknowable into a blunt romantic drama; a film devoid of insinuation, honest inventiveness or, ya know, poetry. "Never be lucid, never state, if you would be regarded great" Thomas once said. You have to wonder how he'd feel about being cast as his own anti-hero.