Look who's stalking

'Enduring Love' is fine - if you don't compare it to the book.

'Enduring Love" is the latest movie to raise a recurring question: Why adapt a novel if there's no cinematic way of capturing what makes the novel worthwhile?

This is especially true in the case of "Enduring Love" for two reasons. One is that Roger Michell's film version is quite good, but would be better if it didn't cut and condense so much of the novel's content. The other is that the book's author, Ian McEwan, served as an associate producer, thereby putting his stamp of approval on the film despite its failings.

The basic story is the same on page and screen. During an out-of-the-blue emergency that literally falls from the sky in the form of a hot-air balloon, an Englishman named Joe meets Jed, an eccentric loner who's convinced that a spark of divine love has passed between them and linked their lives together.

Joe humors Jed for a while, then realizes he's not just a nuisance but a weird emotional predator. This brings tumult to aspects of Joe's life, including his love affair with sculptor Claire, who isn't sure whether her boyfriend is really in trouble or just obsessed with a pesky acquaintance he ought to simply walk away from.

Mr. McEwan's novel uses this situation to ruminate on human love and its relationship to everything from spiritual devotion to mental illness. He also explores coincidence and synchronicity, suggesting that what seems like chance to one person may be perceived by another as theologically ordained.

Little of this substantial content survives in Joe Penhall's screenplay.

Even more disappointing is the movie's paring away of important plot details. Why can't Joe get help from the police? What exactly is behind Jed's bizarre behavior? All this is clear in the novel but murky in the film, which reduces McEwan's intellectual detective story to the level of a merely clever thriller with homophobic overtones.

These problems notwithstanding, "Enduring Love" is marvelously acted and smoothly directed by Mr. Michell, who made the comic "Notting Hill." If you don't compare it with the novel, it's one of the season's better films.

Rated R; contains sex and vulgarity.

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