While the subject matter of this small British drama lends itself to controversy, it's handled with bracing honesty by filmmaker Higgins and his gifted young cast. As a result, we travel this unusual journey with the characters, experiencing something rather outrageous along with them.
Set in Newcastle, it's the story of 16-year-old twins Kristen and Owen (Clark and McEntire), who take care of their disabled mum (Hill) and struggle to pay the bills. They cope with their situation by plotting elaborately witty escape scenarios, and then whey meet the charismatic young loan shark Liam (Cooke), both Kristen and Owen fall for him.
While leading Kristen on, Liam actually latches on to Owen, but has one condition if they are together: Owen has to dress up as a girl and let Liam call him Kristen. Dazzled by Liam's charm, Owen goes along with it until he begins to suspect that Liam might not be very stable. Cooke is superb as the likeably cool Liam, subtly oozing a slippery, predatory sexuality that Owen wouldn't be able to spot. Cooke also lets Liam's bravado slip now and then, revealing his inner fragility, which makes him startlingly sympathetic. Not only are both twins drawn to him, but we are too. And both Clark and McEntire deliver transparent performances that get under the skin.
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Colin Smith, the classic angry young man of disaffected postwar England, puts it all right out there in the film's first line, "Running's always been a big thing in our family, especially running away from the police." Played by a brooding Tom Courtenay, Colin is doing quite a bit of running in general when the police finally catch up with him for breaking into a bakery (a crime that is only mentioned at first, we'll only see it all much later, gradually built up to in flashback). Sent off to a reform school, Colin at first sets himself apart through his sarcasm, the first line of defense for any proper cinematic anti-hero. Despising everyone pretty equally -- especially the whingeing new administrator, spouting new-fangled psychological nonsense that's as condescending as the school's old-fashioned authoritarian rot -- Colin finds a release of sorts in running. It seems a pure thing, especially when he's given leave to go on unsupervised practice runs in the countryside, where he gambols through woods and babbling brooks while jazz tinkles on the soundtrack. Simple and ultimately pointless, it's nevertheless a sight better than his previous life.
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Even if "The End of the Affair" didn't invite comparisons to "The English Patient" with Ralph Fiennes' auto-pilot performance as another reflective World War II-era Englishman immersed heart and soul in an adulterous love affair, this Neil Jordan adaptation of Graham Greene's novel would still be an ambitious misfire.
Beset by the oversimplification of abstract and heavy concepts of heart, mind and religion, the film looks beautiful with its foggy and well-heeled London society appointments, and it's nothing if not emotional, what with the likes of Fiennes and Julianne Moore as the (naturally!) doomed lovers and Jordan staple Stephen Rea as the betrayed, milquetoast husband/best friend.
But while Jordan's talent for screenwriting and direction are evidenced in dialogue ("I'm jealous of these shoes because they take you away from me. I'm jealous of this stocking because it kisses your entire leg...") and structure (Fiennes' point of view transitions into Moore's as he reads her stolen diary), the director's use of other stale and banal plot devices betray the pedestrian underpinnings of this seemingly complex film.
Continue reading: The End Of The Affair Review