Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Please Don't Make Me Watch 'The End of the Affair' Again

Maurice (Ralph Fiennes): I'm jealous of this stocking.

Sarah (Julianne Moore): Why?

Maurice: Because it does what I can't. Kisses your whole leg. And I'm jealous of this button.

Sarah: Poor, innocent button.

Maurice: It's not innocent at all. It's with you all day. I'm not.

Sarah: I suppose you're jealous of my shoes?

Maurice: Yes.

Sarah: Why?

Maurice: Because they'll take you away from me.

If I had to select a movie to watch starring any actress who ever lived, wow, that would be a really tough choice to make. There are so many actresses I admire. It would be almost impossible to narrow it down.

But if I had to select a movie to watch starring any contemporary actress, it would be easy for me. I'd pick just about any movie with Julianne Moore. Oh, I like other actresses of our time, too — Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Helen Mirren, Nicole Kidman, Holly Hunter, just to name a few — but there really is something special about Moore. She is an accomplished actress. She is versatile. In my opinion, she is still as beautiful as she was the first time I saw her in a movie more than 20 years ago.

And I would watch her in just about anything. But I wouldn't watch "The End of the Affair" again.

Some people liked it, I suppose, although the box office suggests that the viewing public agreed with me. It made back less than half what it cost to make.

I can only hope that the Graham Greene novel on which "The End of the Affair" was based was superior to the movie that premiered on this day in 1999.

Of course, it might not have been. The story was set around the end of World War II, and it had a lot of wartime intrigue, which probably had more of a punch when the book was published in 1951 than it had at the end of the 20th century.

For that matter, I'm guessing the movie version that came out in 1955 (starring Van Johnson and Deborah Kerr) had more relevance to viewers than the version that came out 44 years later. I don't know that for certain, of course; I hadn't been born when either the book was published or when the first movie premiered. For that matter, I've never seen the first movie version.

So I do not know how good (or bad) the original novel was or whether the '55 version was better than the '99 one.

I do know that the stars of the 1999 version, Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes, were among the hottest stars of the screen at the time. Their combined credits from the '90s cover many of the decade's most popular movies.

For her part, Moore had appeared in "Short Cuts," "Nine Months," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and "Boogie Nights."

Fiennes, too, had been in his share of critically acclaimed and commercially successful movies — "Schindler's List," "Quiz Show," "The English Patient."

"The End of the Affair" may have been exactly what fans of illicit romance movies want. That isn't my genre. I thought Fiennes' performance was a little too "The English Patient" for my taste. Maybe he was still in chick flick mode. I might have liked his character better if it had leaned more to the villainous types he portrayed in "Schindler's List" and "Quiz Show."

So I may have been guilty of expecting more than I got. It isn't as if I wasn't warned. As the title would suggest, it was largely a soap opera. Fiennes' character had an affair with Moore's character, who happened to be the wife of his best friend. Their affair ended; later Fiennes was approached by Moore's husband (Stephen Rea) about learning the identity of her current lover.

Movie critic Roger Ebert observed that "[i]t is raining much of the time in 'The End of the Affair,' and that is as it should be. The film is about love and adultery in cold, dark, wartime London — when sex was a moment of stolen warmth, an interlude between the air raids and the daily grind of rationing and restrictions."

I never thought about whether the dreary weather was deliberate, or whether it played a conspicuous role in Greene's novel. In hindsight, I suppose it had to have been written into the story because so much of what happens does take place in dismal conditions.

I like both Moore and Fiennes, and I thought they did good jobs with what they had. Moore was even nominated for an Oscar (which she lost to Hilary Swank).

But I couldn't get away from the fact that I felt unmoved when the movie was over. Why was that?

My greatest issue with the movie was the vacuous dialogue, like the example at the top of this post. (It is reminiscent of the taped conversation between Prince Charles and his lover — and later wife — Camilla Parker Bowles in which Charles expressed a desire to be Camilla's tampon.)

Ebert mentioned the movie's dialogue, too. "Not impossible dialogue," Ebert wrote, "but we expect better from a novelist."

That is true.

Since I haven't read Greene's novel, I don't know if the movie was true to it or if it was merely based on it ("based," as you probably know, means the screenwriter[s] liked someone else's basic idea well enough to use it — but not necessarily well enough to tell the same story).

While I appreciated the realistic quality of Fiennes' and Moore's affair being interrupted by a German air raid, I couldn't see how anyone could survive it, and neither could Moore, who knelt in prayer amid the smoke and rubble; nevertheless, the audience saw Fiennes rising up behind her — like the villain from one of those slasher movies who never dies, no matter what is thrown at him.

I have read other Greene novels in my life, and I couldn't imagine the scene in the movie being what he had in mind when he wrote the book. I thought it was an example of Hollywood at its worst.

Ebert apparently had read the novel, and I got the sense that his conclusion wasn't that much different from my own.

But his objection wasn't the implausibility of elements of the movie, it was its "hangdog" mood.

"It is the story of characters who desperately require more lightness and folly; one can be grim in the confessional and yet be permitted a skip in the step on leaving the church," Ebert wrote. "The characters seem too glum. We see release but miss joy."

It really was a joyless kind of story. Even when I was a child, the word affair always seemed to imply a festive feeling. It took on a more illicit feel when I got older, but it still suggested a thrill that really was missing from "The End of the Affair," except when Fiennes made his implausible rise from the dead.

(It kind of reminded me of a line from "Same Time Next Year." Alan Alda confessed to Ellen Burstyn that he felt guilty about their once–a–year weekend trysts. An exasperated Burstyn replied, "You admit it? You take out ads. You probably have a scarlet A embroidered on your jockey shorts!")

"The End of the Affair" was nominated for two Oscars — Best Actress (Moore) and Best Cinematography — and lost both.