Friday December 3, 1999
Handsomely mounted, literate, emotionally sophisticated, "The End of the Affair" has everything a period romance should have, including a score by Michael Nyman and passionate performances by stars Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore. But to call this brooding, complex film simply a romance is to miss a good bit of the point.
"Affair" comes by its troubling qualities honestly, both from the 1951 Graham Greene novel it's based on and the moody sensibility of writer-director Neil Jordan, whose previous films include "The Butcher Boy," "Interview With the Vampire," "Mona Lisa" and "The Crying Game." Jordan has adroitly pruned and revised the original, in ways both substantial and specific--for instance, switching a key facial blemish from one character to another--to make it fit smoothly on screen.
Though love motivates its principals, "The End of the Affair" is more concerned with the corrosive power of jealousy and other dark, torturous byways of romantic attachment, as well as how destructive it can be when, as one character admits, your desire is nearer hatred than love and you measure the strength of passion by how far jealousy extends.
Yet even saying that doesn't completely describe "Affair," for a good part of the story, as was frequently the case with the Roman Catholic Greene's more serious works, deals with matters of the spirit, with questions of faith and belief that play an increasingly crucial role as events unfold.
And because protagonist Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) is himself a novelist, and because this is said to be one of Greene's most personal books (he dedicated it "To C.," code for Catherine Walston, a married American with whom he had what biographer Norman Sherry called "the greatest literary affair of this century"), the film also deals from the inside with what it means to be a writer. "Greene said that there was a splinter of ice in the heart of every novelist," Jordan said in a recent interview, and that aspect of creativity is very much on the screen.
"The End of the Affair" introduces Bendrix at his typewriter, a glass of whiskey near at hand, writing and remembering. "This is a diary of hate," he begins, but knowing whom he truly hates and why is a piece of knowledge that is revealed only gradually and within the context of a carefully worked out chain of events.
Bendrix flashes back to 1946 when, on a rainy night in London, he runs into a distraught and soaked acquaintance named Henry Miles (a wonderfully restrained and subdued Stephen Rea). In a rare act of charity, Bendrix helps the man home, where Miles tells him he's worried about his wife, Sarah (Moore). Perhaps she's having an affair.
It has been two years since Bendrix has heard Sarah's name, but for the five years before that, he and Sarah had been engaged in the most all-consuming of liaisons, one that she suddenly broke off without giving a reason. "Love doesn't end just because we don't see each other" is what she told him in one of the story's signature lines, but for someone like Bendrix, that was hardly enough.
Bendrix, as written by both Greene and Jordan and marvelously played by Fiennes (who seems almost born to the part), is a man adept at self-torture, self-pity and self-absorption. His love for Sarah is genuine and touching, but instead of elevating him it makes Bendrix almost monstrous in his heedless obsession, in his willingness, even eagerness to make life as miserable for everyone else as it is for him.
Latching on to Miles' despair, Bendrix offers to pose as Sarah's disaffected lover (which in fact he is) and hire a private detective to shadow her movements. Miles is offended by the idea, but, without telling the husband, Bendrix puts it into action anyway.
This brings the hangdog Parkis (excellently portrayed by Ian Hart) and his 12-year-old son Lance (Samuel Bould) onto the case, watching Sarah and reporting to Bendrix, who, far from having forgotten her, uses this situation as a reason to reestablish contact with the woman he is still desperately in love with.
"The End of the Affair" goes back and forth between the now of the detective's investigation and the then of heedless passion, when the dangers of wartime London added a frisson of excitement to the already torrid encounters between Sarah and Bendrix (evocatively shot by Roger Pratt with enough nudity to make them convincing). Both the events that triggered the breakup and their strange aftermath are revealed in the film's own good time.
Fiennes and Moore are two of the most impressive screen actors, and they have excellent chemistry together, as his fatalistic personality interacts splendidly with her warmer, more human but in some ways even more complex and unknowable persona.
Collaborating again with cinematographer Pratt, editor Tony Lawson, production designer Anthony Pratt and costume designer Sandy Powell, Jordan, a sometime novelist himself, has beautifully crafted this film with the cool novelist's sensibility he so admires in Greene. Both adult and melodramatic, a bit of a weepie alongside its sharp insights, it shows what Greene called "ordinary corrupt human love" in a clear and unapologetic light.
The End of the Affair, 1999. R, for scenes of strong sexuality. A Stephen Woolley production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Neil Jordan. Producers Stephen Woolley, Neil Jordan. Screenplay Neil Jordan, based on the novel by Graham Greene. Cinematographer Roger Pratt. Editor Tony Lawson. Costumes Sandy Powell. Music Michael Nyman. Production design Anthony Pratt. Art directors Jon Billington, Tony Woollard. Set decorator Joanne Woollard. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Sigourney Weaver as Alice Goodwin. Julianne Moore as Theresa Collins. David Strathairn as Howard Goodwin. Arliss Howard as Paul Reverdy. Ralph Fiennes as Maurice Bendrix. Julianne Moore as Sarah Miles. Stephen Rea as Henry Miles. Ian Hart as Mr. Parkis.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun