Downer 'End of the Affair' adaptation strongly crafted but beset by pedestrian underpinnings
Even if "The End of the Affair" didn't invite comparisons to "The English Patient" with Ralph Fiennes' auto-pilot performance as another reflective World War II-era Englishman immersed heart and soul in an adulterous love affair, this Neil Jordan adaptation of Graham Greene's novel would still be an ambitious misfire.
Beset by the oversimplification of abstract and heavy concepts of heart, mind and religion, the film looks beautiful with its foggy and well-heeled London society appointments, and it's nothing if not emotional, what with the likes of Fiennes and Julianne Moore as the (naturally!) doomed lovers and Jordan staple Stephen Rea as the betrayed, milquetoast husband/best friend.
But while Jordan's talent for screenwriting and direction are evidenced in dialogue ("I'm jealous of these shoes because they take you away from me. I'm jealous of this stocking because it kisses your entire leg...") and structure (Fiennes' point of view transitions into Moore's as he reads her stolen diary), the director's use of other stale and banal plot devices betray the pedestrian underpinnings of this seemingly complex film.
Fiennes plays novelist Maurice Bendrix, recounting in voice-over the hostility and jealousy that has consumed him in the two years since Sarah Miles (Moore) abruptly ended their clandestine relationship. The catalyst for the story is how this malevolence bubbles up for him when Henry Miles (Rea) comes to him, ironically seeking guidance because he thinks his wife may be unfaithful.
Fiennes skillful portrayal makes it gradually apparent that his burning hatred is really smoldering love, but there's just not enough character here to distinguish this brand of brooding from version Count Laszlo de Almasy suffered in "English Patient."
What's worse, his intensifying ire is largely dependent on the findings of an almost comically incapable private detective (Ian Hart) hired to follow Sarah -- who isn't of much use except as a sounding board for Fiennes' prosaic philosophical diatribes about love and regret.
On the other hand, Moore -- looking impeccably period in Oscar-winner Sandy Powell's '40s styles -- is as wonderful as ever, playing Sarah with a faultless Brit accent and a full menu of guilt and heavy passion beneath a prim exterior.
But it's unnecessarily obvious from early on that she is afflicted with one of those only-in-the-movies terminal illnesses, the only symptoms of which are a slight cough and increasing radiance until the script calls for her to become suddenly bedridden and pasty.
While the tension between the former lovers permeates the theater in the film's present, scenes between them during the flashbacks to the affair are often little more than overly stylized sex (life-risking love scenes during German V2 rocket attacks) or murky moments that are meant to establish the beginning of the relationship but raise more questions than they answer.
The best thing about "End of the Affair" is the gradual way in which the most enticing facts of the story are revealed -- like why Sarah abruptly left Bendrix only moments after he's nearly killed in one of the bombing raids. The answer lies in the heavy religious undertones ubiquitous in Graham Greene stories, and it's a stunning moment in the film.
But after all the cards are on the table, the movie (dialogue, structure and all) becomes stale and transparent as Moore's unnamed ailment kicks in right on cue, just as she begins to experience a glimmer of happiness.