Literary adaptations risk failing to convert words into images effectively—doubly so when the source material itself deals with the power of words. Any adaptation of A.S. Byatt's Possession hoping to clock in under the eight-hour mark inevitably has to reduce the author's ingenious use of correspondence, diaries, and verse. Part mystery, part love story, Possession follows two scholars uncovering an unknown romance between two 19th-century poets, a process that in Byatt's novel demands the kind of compulsive page-turning ready-made for film, even without the author's layers of detail. Working with well-credentialed screenwriters David Henry Hwang and Laura Jones, director Neil LaBute gives it a good try with this relatively faithful adaptation, but even though the filmmakers have kept most of the pieces, they never quite fall into place. Aaron Eckhart (whose character has been made American, and his nationality made the subject of so much comment that he might as well have come from Atlantis) plays a lowly British Museum researcher left to inspect none-too-promising nooks in the life of the famously faithful Victorian poet laureate Randolph Henry Ash. Happening across a letter never sent to an unnamed woman, Eckhart deduces that its intended recipient was Christabel LaMotte, a poet of the fantastic whose work has become the focus of emotionally reserved scholar Gwyneth Paltrow. Collaborating in secret, Paltrow and Eckhart attempt to stitch together the story as the film plays it out in flashbacks, with Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle standing in for their elusive subjects. Rushing when it ought to linger, and so choppily edited toward the end that it becomes less a succession of scenes than a parade of plot points, LaBute's Possession could just as easily have been adapted from an audiobook abridgement as from Byatt's original. Such is the nature of adaptation, but a handful of lyrical moments, most notably a powerful final scene, suggest it might have turned out otherwise. A director's cut could clear up some of these problems, but not the deeply entrenched ones. The relatively unknown Ehle and the reliable Eckhart, Paltrow, and Northam all deliver fine performances without really suggesting that any of them could fall in love with each other. And LaBute's examination of the way sexual mores shift over the centuries never becomes more than superficial, a surprising flaw given his past work. For a film that depends so much on the interaction between words and passion—and the drama of how each shapes the other—the shortage of both leaves Possession looking like nothing more than an Indiana Jones in which card catalogs stand in for treasure maps, and footnotes for bullwhips.