A far better film than it really has any right to be, Clint Eastwood's adaptation of Robert James Waller's bestselling novel converts a breathlessly overwrought piece of writing into a moving melodrama in the classic mold. Though it starts badly and comes to a halt every time it returns to its modern day framing device, whenever the film concentrates on the illicit romance of Eastwood and Streep -- which is most of the film -- it serves as a model of understated direction and unimpeachable performances. An unlikely pairing of acting styles, Eastwood and Streep perfectly embody their unlikely lovers. Playing a woman realizing for the first time that she might not be resigned to a life of underappreciated boredom, Streep strikes the right note of nervousness and ecstasy. But unlike its most immediate model, Brief Encounter, since it dwells equally on both lovers, the film turns on Eastwood's performance. Here he transforms his character from a figure of fantasy into a fully-realized man who slowly recognizes his own unspoken loneliness. Though the film's final act drags on well past its emotional climax, as a director Eastwood -- working from a script by Richard LaGravenese -- elsewhere avoids indulgence and always stays away from overt sentimentality, allowing his film to work as a heartbreaking story of hard choices and unrealized dreams.