A mysterious dark shadow hovers constantly over Neil Jordan's onscreen rendering of Graham Greene's love-triangle novel "The End of the Affair." And the emotions of tragic mistress and wife Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore), her husband Henry (Stephen Rea) and her lover Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) make the landscape still another shade darker.
On the rainy streets of wartime London, Henry and Maurice have a chance meeting. Henry, a cold, bored, passionless barrister, sits protected by his hat, raincoat and a calm indifference. Although it's been two years since the affair has ended, Maurice, a tormented novelist, is still obsessed with Sarah and seems open for disaster.
Through a series of intense flashbacks, their story unfolds. Granted, "The End of the Affair" moves more like a novel than a movie. But that's part of its magic. Sarah has a face fit for narrative description, and her episodic affair with Maurice is also the stuff of novels. The two meet clandestinely. Dresses fall from shoulders; hair caresses skin; light shines through stained-glass windows.
The literary quality is enhanced by the movie's visual appeal. "The End of the Affair" is beautifully filmed, superbly acted and wonderfully carried out. Moore plays Sarah with convincing vulnerability and depth, which is necessary for us to be receptive to, even convinced by, her inner tragedy and isolation. Her conversations with Maurice become moving observations on God, love, jealousy and obsession.
Maurice answers these moments with a misguided distrust that leads him to hire a private investigator, Parkis (Ian Hart), to spy on his lover. Parkis works with his young son, Lance (Samuel Bould), a quiet, obedient child. In a strange turn of events, the investigator's reports end up circling back on Maurice himself.
Director Jordan ("The Crying Game," "Interview With the Vampire," The Butcher Boy) tends to excel at creating a tightly woven context around his stories. Unfortunately he fails to pay enough attention to the setting of "The End of the Affair." For most of the movie, we know that World War II is going on, but there is hardly any discussion of it and little impact on day-to-day life.
About midway through, however, a sudden bombing dramatically alters life for all three main characters. Quickly the war becomes a main metaphor for Sarah and Maurice's affair, even though the connection has been barely established.
In fact, the entire movie could have been made against a totally different backdrop. By the time the war is revealed as a central source of confusion and an impetus for many of Sarah's ideas about the world, it seems too late to feel intimidated by it with her.
"The End of the Affair's" symbolism might leave much to be desired. But its emotions are intense and remarkable.