The Sense of an Ending
2017, PG-13, 108 min. Directed by Ritesh Batra. Starring Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 24, 2017
In adapting Julian Barnes’ novel, the 2011 Man Booker Prize winner, playwright Nick Payne does a clever thing with the opening minutes of the film. When a certified letter is delivered to septuagenarian Tony (Broadbent), something – Tony’s absentmindedness, life’s constant stream of distractions – keeps preventing Tony from opening it. We see the letter get stuffed into a jacket pocket and shoved to the bottom of a pile, building suspense while letting the viewer get to know Tony’s small world – a pregnant daughter (Dockery), an affectionately exasperated ex-wife (Walter) – before his equilibrium is rattled once he finally opens the letter.
A surprise inheritance revives old memories for Tony, of prep school and his first romance, and the film moves between these two timelines of present day and the early Sixties. Turns out adult Tony doesn’t know the whole story behind a long-ago tragedy, or has forgotten his influence on events leading up to that tragedy. As Tony re-examines the past, director Ritesh Batra, who made the well-received 2013 arthouse romance The Lunchbox, physically places adult Tony in the same locations young adult Tony once haunted – the street where he meets his girlfriend, the back of a car as he watches her mother wave him goodbye – and the haunted look on Broadbent’s face packs the film’s surest punch. Alas, the younger actors in the Sixties stretch are no match for the senior set, weightless and blank next to the gravitas of Broadbent, Walter, and Charlotte Rampling (playing that first love who still makes Tony’s head spin), and the book’s mysteries and bleak epiphanies prove too subtle for the film to adapt with any deep impact.