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Julianne Moore's forceful portrayal of a sainted adulteress powers Neil Jordan's "The End of the Affair."

Leap of Faith


In the past, the nonsecular works of popular British writer Graham Greene have not fared well on the big screen. Even in the hands of such famed directors as John Ford and Edward Dmytryk, Greene 's religious novels' journeys from print to film were tortured affairs. But British director Neil ("The Crying Game") Jordan is about to change all that. His instantly intriguing take on Greene's "The End of the Affair" is also surprisingly moving, despite the innate chilliness of the characters, as well as his choice of actors. Even reworked by Jordan, Greene's story still requires a major leap of faith. Or at the very least, a willingness not to dismiss the possibility of miraculous coincidence. If you can accomplish that, then Jordan's "Affair" offers viewers a rare treat: intelligent, thoughtful entertainment. In the central role, Julianne Moore plays Sarah, the resigned wife of Ministry Office career civil servant Henry Miles (Stephen Rea). The setting is World War II London, and while the bombs fall, Sarah discovers in the arms of novelist Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) the passion and love missing from her marriage. But Sarah ends the affair abruptly, without a word of explanation to her jealous lover. Filled with hurt and hate, Bendrix cannot quite forget her. A chance encounter with her husband, Henry, one rain-soaked night several years later rekindles his pain and passion. Pretending to have Henry's peace of mind foremost in his plans, Bendrix has Sarah followed. Fiennes' performance immediately calls to mind "The English Patient," where he was also cast as the more cerebral than passionate lover of another man's wife. Even Rea's portrayal of the distracted, somewhat asexual Henry recalls his performances in other Jordan films. And although he is thoroughly endearing, Ian Hart, as the kindly Cockney set to the task of following Sarah, comes across as a tad too predictable. But all that seeming predictability of motive and character stops whenever Moore is center-screen. She alone powers the film, giving us a character worthy of watching. Moore's Sarah is an enigma to the men closest to her — and to us. Passionate one moment, coolly abrupt the next; she keeps our sympathies long after we have come to dislike or pity the men she has come to care for. As Jordan slowly reveals to us the spiritual and ethical reasons behind Sarah's decision, we are even more captivated. Employing a series of "Rashomon"-style flashbacks, Jordan and Fiennes and Moore show us how chance, coincidence and context can both clarify and distort shared experiences. We see the pivotal moment, the crisis point in the affair from both Bendrix's and Sarah's personal perspective. The German bomb that shatters their relationship can stand for any power one chooses to empower it with — fate, chance or the handiwork of an omnipresent being. Once we — and Bendrix — understand Sarah's reasoning, the movie begins to veer dangerously close to melodrama. Watching the decent yet weak Henry and the hate-filled Bendrix put aside their personal feelings when Sarah desperately needs them both, we are somewhat taken aback, wondering if this is not the greater miracle. Though much of the movie's length seems an elaborate setup for a conclusion that remains aggravating in its ambiguity, "The End of the Affair" effectively poses timeless questions of faith and spirituality. And with those questions comes that time-honored truth: Those who believe in miracles do so without need of proof. For those who do not, no proof is possible. In "The End of the Affair," Moore's performance is the true miracle.

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