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Divine Romance 

*The End of the Affair (R)

Columbia Pictures

Novelist Graham Greene's crankiest, most autobiographical novel is adapted for the screen and filmed by director Neil Jordan with such precision and care, it feels like an original work. Based on Greene's adulterous affair with American Catherine Watson and the moral dilemma presented by that life-altering relationship, The End of the Affair is the story of jaded author Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes); his lover Sarah Miles, played with pale delicacy and depth by Julianne Moore; and her drab husband, civil servant Henry Miles (Stephen Rea).

It is also a story of miracles and the mystery of faith.

Fiennes is in top form as the disenchanted '40s intellectual, embittered by Sarah's breaking off of their affair when a bomb drops near the London building where the two are making love. This central scene is replayed several times in the movie -- from the point of view of Bendrix and then of Sarah -- and contains the central conflict of the story: Sarah begs God to turn back time and spare Bendrix, who she believes is lying dead at the bottom of the stairs, when he walks into the room. She believes the event is divine intervention, so does she then turn her back on God, or on Bendrix?

Gorgeous period detail, soft-edged cinematography and rich characterization by the three principal actors all serve Jordan's elegant script well. But don't expect old-fashioned Hollywood romance here -- the film contains a surprising amount of full-on sex, complete with Fiennes' bare, thrusting buns and Moore's ecstatic climaxes.

Slow at first, the film gathers intrigue as it progresses, introducing subtly the central religious, moral and philosophical questions while staying focused throughout on the faces and actions of the central figures. Jordan fans will be delighted with his return to form after last year's horrible In Dreams. The End of the Affair ranks right up there with his best works, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy.

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