The opening scene of this smart thriller comes across like a rusty knife ripping through young skin. On a perfect summer’s day, Joe (Daniel Craig) and Claire (Samantha Morton) are sitting in an empty field; a marriage proposal is on the tip of Joe’s tongue, a champagne bottle in his grip. Then, from the heavens, there glides a bright red plot catalyst: a struggling hot air balloon that will disrupt the easy lives of this university lecturer and his sculptor girlfriend for months to come. In the ensuing attempt to steady this floating mass, Joe witnesses a stranger – another Good Samaritan – being pulled up into the air by the balloon’s rope and plunge to his death in a nearby field. The calamity leaves Joe with two unwanted gifts: a persistent, unhinged stalker, Jed (Rhys Ifans), and escalating feelings of paranoia and self-doubt that throw his life into turmoil.
On one level, this is a simple yet enticing tale of a desperate stalker and his prey (an aspect that climaxes a little weakly). Yet the film is more interesting when cataloguing the disintegration of Joe’s charmed life. Set in a cosy corner of middle-class north London (Bill Nighy plays the best mate), this pitches emotion against reason, evolution against love, family against loneliness. It’s superbly well-crafted, and the script, especially, is a joy, again confirming Penhall as one of our leading writing talents, for both film and theatre.
Cast and crew