THE END OF THE AFFAIR is the story of a romantic triangle. In other words -- as we are told right at the film's opening -- it is a story about hate. The lovers are cynical novelist Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes, once again in his element as a man who is rather less decent than he believes) and Sarah Miles (Julianne Moore). Sarah's husband Henry (Stephen Rea) loves her too, but he's too gloomily practical a man to play the part of a rival suitor. That role gets filled by God.

As the movie begins, Maurice and Sarah haven't seen each other for years. A chance meeting with her depressed husband one rainy evening leads Maurice to believe Sarah has now found another lover, causing his own jealousy to flare up. Pretending to act on Henry's behalf, he hires a private detective (the hilarious Ian Hart) to follow her. Meanwhile, flashbacks fill us in on the wartime passion the two shared, lounging in bed while air raid sirens wail and bombs explode.

At first glance, the movie is as sedate and properly reserved as any literary adaptation (from Graham Greene) about religious faith should be. As a result, it can be slow going, and Moore in particular seems chastened, unwilling to make Sarah as desperate or erotic as she should be. But when Maurice's hunting down of Sarah becomes God's hunting down of Maurice, well, the movie perks up.

While it lacks the grotesque, feverish intensity of the best Neil Jordan films -- The Company of Wolves, The Butcher Boy, the beautiful, underrated tone poem In Dreams -- The End of the Affair shares their admirable curiosity about spiky characters caught in uncompromising situations, not to mention a fascination with fairy tales. And like any good love story, it is also a story about hate.

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