Our Rating: 2 out of 5
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
My friends have told me that the novel by Graham Greene on which this film is based is absolutely magnificent. It presents itself as an exploration of the weaknesses of human nature and takes a religious turn that transforms it into a soul-searching discovery of faith. I knew nothing about the film going in, so imagine my surprise when it followed a similar trend.
It is a particularly dreary evening in London in 1946 and the rain is coming down in sheets. Maurice Bendrix (Ralph Fiennes) is on his way home and chances to encounter an old friend, Henry Miles (Stephen Rea) sitting alone on a park bench with only his fedora for company. Choosing to accompany him back to the stately house in the square where he currently resides, Bendrix discovers that Henry fears his wife Sarah (Julianne Moore) is having an affair, but is anxious about the clichés involved in approaching a private investigator for information. Bendrix volunteers to handle it and Henry agrees, little knowing that his friend has a vested interest as well -- since he was the last person to have an affair with Sarah and now wants to know who she has replaced him with, since she inexplicably ended it without a word of explanation.
As he goes about hiring an investigator (Ian Hart), Bendrix remembers the circumstances of their passionate love affair and starts to unravel the mystery of what caused Sarah to so suddenly abandon him. I honestly expected no redeeming value in this film whatsoever simply by the title, but decided out of Fiennes appreciation to watch it anyway. At the risk of revealing several plot twists, the audience is surprised to learn that Sarah's decision is formed of both a moral nagging of her conscience and an increase in her faith. Breaking off the affair was her way of keeping a promise she had made to God in a moment of passionate desperation. As such, running throughout the second half of the film is a quagmire of controversial truths. Bendrix begins as an atheist but through a series of events comes to believe in the existence of God, and by the conclusion we realize the Person he has been addressing throughout in his memoirs is in fact God.
What begins as indifference concludes with a belief that God is now making a bid for his soul. He goes so far as to tell God to keep His distance, but the viewer suspects eventual submission is inevitable. It makes for a fairly haunting conclusion. Sarah spends much of her time in confession and searches for the assistance of a priest in forgoing temptation. However, she admits that it is too strong for her to resist, and gives in a second time, spending several passionate months with Bendrix, who eventually moves in with her and her husband, who does not seem to mind. I wish her resistance had been stronger, but the fact remains that her human weakness does not lessen the impact of the literal miracles she left in her wake. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the film due to the content, which consists of several graphic sex scenes (all involving nudity in some form). The producer and director both apparently had Catholic backgrounds, and so I find their decision to show so much rather shocking. I think the message of the film could have been even more impacting without glorifying the adultery. Language is so infrequent that it hardly bears mentioning, but there is one or two mild abuses of deity. As the romance took place during wartime, a bomb takes out half a town and reduces a house to rubble. Bendrix is caught in the explosion and is thrown violently forward down an open flight of stairs.
In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about the film. On one hand, it was very powerful and thought provoking, but its unusually dark conclusion and the fact that the heroine falls to temptation not only before her conversion experience but also after is somewhat haunting. On the other hand, the book is something of an autobiography and as such, we must conclude that it was events similar to these that led Greene to ultimately take a long, harsh look at his life and choose to eventually involve God in it. I imagine it was not an easy novel for him to write. Watch it if it's ever cleaned up on network television, but otherwise keep your fingers on the remote.