Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Begging for an End

The best 34 seconds of "The End of the Affair."

By Ashley Fantz

FEBRUARY 7, 2000:  This is a review of hate.

For people who have already wasted $7 seeing this tragic misuse of Ralph Fiennes' fine acting, you will recall the opening scene.

A scorned novelist Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) sits at his desk pummeling an innocent Underwood, giving his trademark tortured lover look. Alone in a darkened room, illuminated by the crashing lightening outside his musty apartment, he writes about what went wrong with Sarah Miles.

This is a diary of hate, he writes.

I nearly jumped out of my seat. The screenwriters stole that line from me! Damon Noel, fifth grade! I wrote that same line in my Ramona Quimby diary. I remember choking back shots of apple juice and crying with each word just as Bendrix threw back scotch and wiped sweat from his brow. This is a diary of hate. Everywhere, church bells rang with the resounding doom of our breaking hearts. I was haunted again as to why Damon left me for that sixth grade whore Angela Spitnelly. I fainted then. But I awoke just in time to see what had Bendrix in a bind.

Julianne Moore, pert and puckered (in so many more ways than her 1940s-style wardrobe), is Sarah. Married to a first-rate Parliamentary bore, portrayed by Stephen Rea, Sarah finds her afternoon delights with Bendrix without so much as smudging the lipstick that will have In Style magazine readers buzzing for months. The affair begins with no true rationale. Sarah's husband can't be bothered with taking her out, so he asks his pal Bendrix. Coy dinner conversation leads to holding hands. Cut to Sarah's home. Because they can't find a board game, she leads him upstairs. His hand creeps up the back of her dress. She throws her red harlot locks back. His hands are everywhere, expertly undoing every straight-jacket-like piece of lingerie she wears. And then in the rush of choreographed passion, the only reason to see The End to the Affair.

Ralph Fiennes' bare, waxen bottom. For a full 34 seconds. I timed it, of course.

Anyone with a good sense of humor can sit through the rest of this overly dramatized film based on Graham Greene's autobiographical novel of the same name. That book comes off less hokey because its lines of woe-is-me pity are cushioned by elegant prose and dichotomous observations about falling in love amid the destruction of World War II. The film, however, has no choice but to use lines focused on Sarah and Bendrix. Why bother mainstream movie audiences with deeper, more poetic voiceovers than, "I would rather die than be without her." Yeah, yeah, yeah. What woman hasn't heard that one before?

Sentiments of jealousy and lust are a cliché minefield. And director Neil Jordan, who made the infamous Crying Game, doesn't seem to mind. Because this is a period piece, he suggests it's feasible that love was uncomplicated in 1940, driven purely by instinct and duty. He seems to have forgotten that most modern audiences who are even slightly cynical will find it hard to swallow that Bendrix and Sarah are really in love rather than two lonely people who can only connect when they are literally connected in bed. They hardly talk to one another, save the occasional reassurance that Sarah gives Bendrix that she will never leave him. In one hilarious scene, she mounts him and bucks seizure-like until finally rolling off him like an experienced cowgirl and inquires, "Do you believe me now?"

But as all tacky love affairs come to an end, Sarah does leave Bendrix after mortar crashes through his apartment during the London Blitz. Bendrix is befuddled as to why Sarah is busily getting dressed and heading for the door. She tells him, "Love never ends," before she walks out of his life for two years. A chance meeting with Sarah's husband two years later rekindles Bendrix's passion for her. He hires a private detective and his son to follow her.

At the crux of The End to the Affair, which explains the reasons Sarah abandons Bendrix, is a plot that — like The Crying Game — cannot be critiqued. To talk about it would ruin the surprise of the movie. Let's just say it involves higher powers, not necessarily human foibles that would make the film far more interesting and credible. Unlike Greene's novel, the film ends like any Daniel Steele miniseries. With a whine of a saxophone building in the background, two men who loved one woman are left broken by her absence. Her own ambitions are left unrealized. A child — the investigator's son — appears cherubic and ready-made material for a sequel. And the audience is wondering, where did two hours of my life go? — Ashley Fantz


Breathless.

If there's one word to describe Cradle Will Rock, that would be it. Writer/director Tim Robbins displays a plate spinner's agility in managing this ambitious project — a comedy/sort-of musical/historic satire with a message.

Cradle Will Rock is set in the 1930s, when a young, boisterous, and always-drunk Orson Welles (Angus MacFadyen) is preparing to stage The Cradle Will Rock, a politically daring musical by Marc Blitzstein (Hank Azaria), which will be performed by his Federal Theater group, which is subsidized by FDR's Works Progress Administration. Government employee Hazel Huffman (Joan Cusack) busies herself by preparing to testify before Congress that the Federal Theater Project is a breeding ground for communists. On her side is the smitten Tommy Crickshaw (Bill Murray), a vaudeville ventriloquist who has his own beef with the system.

Meanwhile, as workers threaten to strike all across the country, steel magnate Gray Mathers (Philip Baker Hall) is having to deal with his bohemian wife Countess La Grange (Vanessa Redgrave), a lover of the arts and intrigue who has an opera composer as a pet, and Margherita Sarfatti (Susan Sarandon), an Italian temptress, ex-lover of Mussolini, and die-hard fascist, who gives away Da Vincis to wealthy Americans in exchange for financial support of the cause. Nelson Rockefeller (John Cusack) also makes an appearance as a patron (on his terms) of the arts who hires Diego Rivera (Ruben Blades) to paint a mural in his company headquarters.

Robbins sets the mood to flamboyant and rarely lets up. All of the actors ham it up, with the exception of the utterly human performance of Bill Murray and a couple of the other minor characters. In fact, the players seem to be having a better time than the audience. The movie's outline — with its fascists and capitalist pigs — may lack the curb appeal to draw big numbers, and its whip-smart satire of history, well, may seem like history, and what does it matter now anyway?

Robbins literally leads a parade to why it matters. It's clear he laments the importance of money and the power money has over creating or stifling art or worse yet, encouraging art that is lazy and tiresomely the same. But this champion of free expression should take heart: that Cradle Will Rock got made at all indicates that things might not be so bad. — Susan Ellis


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