Sony // 1999 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Harold Gervais (Retired) // May 15th, 2000
What can one write about happiness?
Based on Graham Greene's autobiographical novel The End Of The Affair begins on a rainy night in postwar London. Maurice Bendix (Ralph Fiennes) runs into Henry Miles (Stephen Rea) the husband of a woman Bendix had a torrid affair with during the war. Not suspecting Bendix, Miles thinks his is wife Sarah (Julianne Moore) is now having an affair and does not know what to do. His curiosity and jealousy kicked into high gear, Bendix volunteers to find out what Sarah is up to. Going to a private investigation firm, Bendix poses as the current lover wanting to know what Sarah is doing on her frequent and lengthy "walks." His request from the firm brings Bendix into contact with a hapless detective named Parkis (Ian Hart) and his son Lance (Sam Bould). Parkis is the "vicarious lover" in pursuit of Sarah. It is Sarah's contact with Parkis' son, who has a huge birthmark that covers almost half his face, that gives the film its final coda and lets us know what kind of person Sarah Miles was.
Bouncing back between the present and the past, the film shows the affair from both Bendix and Sarah's perspective. The happy days of lovemaking with war raging in the background and the fights caused by Bendix's uncontrollable jealousy are brought into focus, allowing the viewer to see what brought them together and what tore them apart.
Told in real time and in flashbacks, The End Of The Affair is a well crafted film. To his credit, writer/director Neil Jordan (Interview With The Vampire, The Crying Game, Mona Lisa), never lets the proceedings denigrate into soap opera instead maintaining a very British "stiff upper lip" to the proceedings. With marvelous attention to detail, Jordan and crew succeed in recreating a living, breathing war torn London. Stunning work is turned in by cinematographer Roger Pratt (12 Monkeys, Batman, Brazil), production designer Anthony Pratt, and costume designer Sandy Powell. The film has an impressive sense of time and tone that certainly helped carry me along into its world.
As Sarah Miles, Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, An Ideal Husband, The Big Lebowski), received a Best Actress nomination and further cemented her reputation as one of the screen's finest working actresses. The only American in the cast, Moore loses herself in the role. She totally becomes Sarah Miles and it is an impressive performance full of nuance, sensuality and grace.
While not one of the "main three," Ian Hart (Enemy of the State, The Butcher Boy, Michael Collins) manages to steal every scene he is in. Whether being a concerned father, a searcher for the truth or simply looking for a friend, Parkis is a study in dogged determination. The film benefits greatly from warmth in his performance.
With this release, Columbia has put out yet another wonderful disc. The End Of The Affair is presented in its aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with an anamorphic transfer that is very close to perfect. The picture possesses great detail and clarity. Colors are natural and warm with great contrast. Nighttime scenes and shadows have great depth with no signs of bleed or shimmer. No matter how difficult the image, whither it is bombs exploding or the ever-present London rain, everything is naturally rendered with no evidence of edge enhancement. The print itself, as to be expected with such a recent film, is pristine, devoid of any imperfections.
The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 and while not the most aggressive mix, due to the nature of the film, when required it does pack some serious punch. Dialogue is well placed and clear with directional effects being both subtle and effective. The film uses London and the sounds of the period as a supporting character to tell its story and the disc once again scores high marks on its presentation.
While not a full-blown special edition, the disc has quite a few worthwhile features, not the least of which are not one but two commentary tracks. The first and better of the two, is with Writer/Director Neil Jordan. Mr. Jordan is both informative and somewhat wry in his commentary and there are very few gaps. It is an interesting discussion of what went into the making of the movie and if you enjoy the film, it is well worth listening to. The other track is with Julianne Moore. While Ms. Moore is enthusiastic, her track is more superficial, more obvious and not quite as interesting as Mr. Jordan's. There are also more and longer gaps in the discussion that makes it tougher going. Not done yet, the disc also has an isolated music track of Composer Michael Nyman's wonderful score. This is a feature we are seeing on a more regular basis and I for one, could not be happier. Also included are production notes, talent files, theatrical trailers and a very brief "making of" featurette.
For a film about passion, faith and uncontrollable love, The End Of The Affair is, well, boring. Sterile is the term that kept coming to my mind. Brilliant production design and "pretty as a postcard" cinematography only helps to contribute to a feeling of coldness in the film.
The film's sense of chill is added to by two of the three lead performances. The film and its actors are far too British for its own good. As the husband, Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, Interview With The Vampire, In Dreams), gives a performance so restrained it seems as if he went through the war sleep walking. When the very passionate Sarah looks outside her marriage for love and comfort, my reaction was, what took her so long?
As Maurice Bendix, a man enslaved by his jealousy, Ralph Fiennes (The Prince of Egypt, The English Patient, Strange Days), is such a total bastard that it defies belief that Moore's character would so quickly dedicate her life and love to him. A character who cannot sit back and enjoy the ray of light that has found its way into his world, Fiennes as Bendix, suffers far too easily.
An even greater problem is Writer Jordan makes the dichotomy of Bendix's and Miles' views on life and religion so obvious and heavy handed that it truly brings the film down. Perhaps, in the end, that is my problem with the film and its characters. The End Of The Affair has no spark or joy. Tragic love affairs have been a staple of film since its creation but with tragic love one expects to believe the characters feel the same things, that they truly need the other. Moore manages to convey this but Fiennes, all stiff and angry bluster, just comes off as miserable. A film where chemistry is key, The End Of The Affair has none.
Trying to make an adult love story is not an easy thing these days and The End Of The Affair is certainly frank in its depiction of physical passion between the two main characters. But as is the case with everything in the film, all this passion comes without heat and no true sense of desire. So rather than being erotic, the lovemaking scenes simply come off as clinical displays of tactful camera placement. Certainly not the desired effect, I'm sure.
I am not sure who The End Of The Affair would appeal to. As a romantic drama it is not very romantic and the drama is so restrained it plays like a PBS documentary.
Fans of Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes looking forward to seeing these stars nude are better advised to search out Playboy magazine's annual "Sex in Cinema " issue to get their flesh fix. Maybe there the shots of their lovemaking will have some degree of heat.
As a home video release, The End Of The Affair is one of those discs that has more going for it because of the extras included than for the film itself. As such, the film is, at best, a marginal rental. A better choice may well be to look for it on cable and then decide.
As a film, The End Of The Affair is convicted of being a boring waste of time. Julianne Moore and Columbia are however, acquitted of all charges and free to leave the court with its thanks. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Director Neil Jordan Commentary Track
* Actress Julianne Moore Commentary Track
* Isolated Music Score
* Making of Featurette
* Theatrical Trailers
* Talent Files
* Production Notes