Originally written January 10, 2000
Fans of The English Patient (and they are many and they are fierce) have probably been eagerly anticipating Anthony Minghella’s next film, which, recently released, is The Talented Mr. Ripley, starring Matt Damon. But it is really Neil Jordan’s latest piece, The End of the Affair, which carries the torch passed by Minghella’s 1996 romantic epic.
The End of the Affair, based on the book by Graham Greene, is an emotional, winding trip through the tempers of the heart, including possession, jealousy, lust and loss. Director and screenwriter Jordan, best known for his serious and dark films The Crying Game, Mona Lisa and Interview With The Vampire has made another excellent example of raw, emotional film-making.
The End of the Affair is about the one thing we all have experienced but the one thing none would ever admit to: obsession. Ralph Fiennes, surely cementing himself here as Hollywood’s favorite brooding romantic leading man, plays Maurice Bendrix, a novelist in war-time London who is in love with and is having an affair with Sarah, a married woman, played by Julianne Moore. Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, but it is, yet again, Fiennes, just as in The English Patient, who brings the depth and breadth to the film. The passionate story of two people who are desperately in love but who cannot be together is as classic as the ages, but continues to work because it’s as basic as breathing. Anyone who has ever been tormented by love, in any way, will find an emotional connection with this film, which is powerful, textured and deeply moving.
The dark atmosphere fosters the story of love and loss, as most scenes are shot at night and many in pouring rain. Fiennes is not a very cheery actor, but when cast right, as he is here, his brooding nature serves rather than detracts. Stephen Rea, cast in the part of the cuckolded husband, delivers a sensitive and controlled performance worthy of attention come March. Moore, the only American actor here playing a Brit, does well with the accent and the time period, but falters just a bit in her delivery of that special ingredient that would make the story truly engrossing. Still, the romance is effective.
But it is not the romance that makes The End of the Affair so haunting. It is the loss of romance, the jealousy that accompanies love, the pain that accompanies loss, and the anger that accompanies heartache that are the real players here. The human heart plays at so many levels and can change its tempo and tune within a beat, and we are all prone to its nuances. The End of the Affair is a deeply passionate map of the heart and all its ins and outs and highs and lows. I remember the hoopla surrounding The English Patient and how it was considered “uncool” for “real men” to like that film because it was SO sensitive and intricate about love and passion. Well, compared to The End of the Affair, The English Patient can almost be considered boorish in its approach to true love. Guys, you’ve been warned. But anyone with a romantic bone in their body will love every minute of this film and will want to drink it in slowly.
This is no simple boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl love story. There is nothing simple here. That is its reality and that is its power. There is a spiritual element in the film which, thankfully, is left, for the most part, to the viewer to interpret, but the true theme of this film is universal and earthly: love is all-encompassing and all-controlling. We are merely its willing slaves, in one way or another.
My rating: **** = worth standing in line