Ralph Fiennes is the perfect tormented lover. The serious profile, the haunted eyes, the perpetual five-o'clock shadow, all describe a man who falls deeply in love with a married woman and can't rest until she is his forever.
The End of the Affair, based on a Graham Greene novel, begins fatefully on a rainy night in London. Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) encounters Henry Miles (a serviceable Stephen Rea), the husband of his ex-lover, for whom he still yearns. When Henry confides that he suspects Sarah (Julianne Moore) of infidelity, a burning jealousy prompts Bendrix to hire a detective to follow her and discover the truth. Unfortunately for all three in this tragic love triangle, the truth is far from simple.
Director Neil Jordan's adaptation is faithful in style and plot to Greene's book, while simplifying the story line to make it easier to tell on film. Yet the result is strangely flat, like seeing the reflection of a painting in a mirror smudged with fingerprints. Many of the soul-searching questions Greene worries at are brought up, yet with not nearly the same fervour or depth.
To some degree, that's to be expected as film is a difficult medium for discourses on ethics and God and life and love. Jordan does what he can to change exposition into dialogue.
For the first half, the film seems like a rip off of The English Patient or M is for Murder. Then it comes to life, after a smooth shift to Sarah's perspective, thanks to a magnificent performance by Moore that establishes her as one of the great modern actors. Jordan creates a completely believable period piece through a combination of lighting, detailed sets and costumes, and sensitivity to mood. This could be nowhere but Great Britain at the tail end of World War II.