The End of the Affair
1999, R, 109 min. Directed by Neil Jordan. Starring Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Ian Hart, Stephen Rea, Jason Isaacs, Samuel Bould.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 21, 2000
For a story about an illicit sexual affair and all the love, deceit, and jealousy it engenders, The End of the Affair is a peculiarly tepid romance. Adapted for the screen from Graham Greene's largely autobiographical novel, the film was written and directed by the usually masterful storyteller Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, The Butcher Boy). Yet this film rendition, though beautiful and thoughtful, lacks passion. Set in wartime London, the film jumps back and forth in time and perspective as it tells the tale of Sarah Miles (Moore), who is married to bland civil servant Henry Miles (Rea), yet has an affair with her neighbor, a disenchanted writer named Maurice Bendix (Fiennes). The story begins in the middle and then retraces their 10-year relationship, beginning with Sarah and Maurice's meeting in 1939 and on through the war years and after. It is also a story of misunderstandings that become apparent only through the story's multiple retellings from different perspectives. The movie also brings to the forefront Greene's fascination with Catholicism and morality, although the Catholicism doesn't rear its head until the film's latter half. The mood of the film seems right: It's dank and rainy, and sometimes the Blitzkrieg rages -- all the more reason that an adulterous embrace stolen in the midst of these downpours might seem so delicious. As the unknowingly betrayed husband, Rea maintains his hangdog look throughout the film (it's no wonder a wife might want to get away from him just for a laugh). Fiennes and Moore are polished and graceful as the lovers, but there is no real spark felt between them. The lines they deliver rarely sound believable and, in truth, the entire drama surrounding the “end of their affair” could have been easily averted with some straightforward conversation. Ian Hart practically steals the show as the dead-serious private detective who believes in the honorable calling of snooping on cheating spouses. As for the film's conclusion, the highly melodramatic resolution lacks credibility, its fabricated simplicity undermining the complicated truths that came before. The End of the Affair ultimately feels like a movie whose heart is in the right place, even though someone neglected to flip the “On” switch.