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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/1/00

The End of the Affair
1999 (2000) - Columbia TriStar

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The End of the Affair (1999) Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/B

Specs and Features
101 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Amaray keep case packaging, 2 audio commentaries (one with director Neil Jordan and one with actress Julianne Moore), "making of" featurette, isolated score, 2 theatrical trailers (for The End of the Affair and Remains of the Day), talent files, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Bendrix: "I'm sorry, Henry."

Henry: "The thing is Bendrix, I always knew. I knew she was with someone. But I never thought you. The odd thing is... I'm glad it was."

I'm going to start this review by confessing that I've never seen the original 1955 version of this film. I've also not read the Graham Greene novel upon which both films were based. I'll leave comparisons to the other versions to the reader.

Director Neil Jordan here tells the story of an illicit affair set against the backdrop of World War II London. Ralph Finnes stars as Maurice Bendrix, a writer. He's asked to spend time with a British cabinet minister named Henry Miles (Stephen Rea), as part of research he's doing on a similar character in his latest book. All is well until Bendrix meets Henry's wife, Sarah (Julianne Moore). Sarah and Henry have a lackluster marriage - he's too busy working and she merely inhabits his world as a friend. But Bendrix and Sarah have an instant chemistry and fall in love. They're soon embroiled in a torrid affair, sneaking time together during air raids in the afternoons. Then one day, after a crisis occurs, Sarah suddenly walks out of Bendrix's life for good. She gives Bendrix no reason for her departure, and he's devastated by her decision.

All of this is told in flashback. As the film opens (two years later), Bendrix is out for a walk on a rainy evening, and bumps into Henry, who confesses that he thinks Sarah has been unfaithful. Henry wants to hire a private investigator to look into things, but when he reveals that he's too embarrassed, Bendrix agrees to do it for him, hoping to find the answers that he needs himself.

One of the problems with The End of the Affair, I think, is that a film about a torrid love affair starring Ralph Finnes and set during World War II is inevitably going to be compared to The English Patient. One of the latter film's strengths is the way in which its love story was set against a much larger canvas of action. The love story in End of the Affair is no less tragic or believable, and no less well acted. The problem here is that the love affair is all there is - we see nothing of the backdrop of the war, and nothing of the husband's life apart from Sarah. The romance in this film unfolds too quickly, and reveals its mystery too early (the film is, after all, only 101 minutes long). Once it does, the film's ending loses some impact, since it's been telegraphed too obviously.

Jordan's direction does keep it interesting, however, as we progressively see the affair from both the point of view of Bendrix, and later from Sarah as well. That's how we're eventually made to understand the conflicts and mysteries behind Sarah's choices. All of the performances in this film are very strong, particularly Stephen Rea. Finnes is always brilliant, and even Moore surprises somewhat (although I don't know that she deserved the Best Actress nomination she received for this role, as the character she plays seems rather uncomplicated). What also makes this film enjoyable, is a subplot involving the sort-of friendship Bendrix strikes up with Parkis (played by Ian Hart), the intrepid investigator he's hired to follow Sarah. Adding to this line, Parkis is training his young son, Lance, to follow his father's career path. And the film's very ending, which ties all plots together, is somewhat surprising. It's there that the film becomes as much about belief, as it is about promises broken and sacrifices made.

Columbia TriStar's DVD version of the film boasts good looking video, in both anamorphic widescreen and full frame. This is a dark, moody film, and thankfully the contrast and shadow delineation here are first rate. Colors are accurate yet muted, appropriate to the film's cinematography. The transfer is a bit soft looking at times, but serves the film well. On the audio side, this film is primarily dialogue-driven, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also works well given that fact. The dialogue is clear and well-presented. Good ambiance is created with the rear channels throughout the film, and there's solid bass when necessary (which is seldom). There is very little call for surround sound effects, but when there is, this mix performs surprisingly well. Listen to chapter 15, as Sarah and Bendrix make love during a bombing. You can hear the sound of German V1 rocket bombs as they fly over from from the rear, getting louder and louder. Then their engines cut off, and there's nothing but silence until the explosive impact, which rattles with bass. Very nice.

This disc isn't exactly packed, but it does include some good extras. You get a pair of theatrical trailers, talent files and a 7-minute featurette on the making of the film. Also included is Michael Nyman's score on an isolated audio track, and a pair of full-length commentary tracks, one with director Neil Jordan and another with Julianne Moore. The first track is definitely worth listening to. It's low-key, but Jordan delivers lots of interesting insights into the film and Greene's original novel, which was actually based on a similar affair the author had during the war. Moore's, on the other hand, is more of a play-by-play. It's far less enthralling to listen to, but has the occasional inspired moment.

The End of the Affair isn't in the same league as The English Patient, but it's still a good and somewhat interesting film in its own right. It reminded me in some ways of Legends of the Fall, in that there just wasn't quite enough story to tell, causing the film to lose focus a bit in the last reel. Still, terrific performances by the cast make it worth a viewing, and this is a fairly solid and generally satisfying DVD edition. It's definitely worth a look.

Bill Hunt
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