Directed by Ritesh Batra. Starring Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode.
THE PLOT: Retired Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) runs a Leica camera store, has a cordial relationship with his ex-wife, and is trying to be more involved with his pregnant daughter’s life, but likes his perfectly ordered world just the way it is. When Tony receives a letter saying an ex-girlfriend’s mother left him something in her will, Tony’s world is rocked as he is forced to remember the actions of his past, and make sense of the present with new information.
THE VERDICT: Based on the novel of the same name by Julian Barnes, and boasting an impressive cast including Jim Broadbent, Michelle Dockery, Harriet Walter and Charlotte Rampling, ‘The Sense of an Ending’ could be an engaging mystery filled with nostalgia and regret for the decisions made in the past. As it stands however, ‘The Sense of an Ending’ lives up to its title, and is drawn out, slow, and never really gives the audience more than a sense of what is going on.
Jim Broadbent leads the cast as the affable but slightly curmudgeonly Tony, and does well in making the character likeable, although the obsession with which he chases down the item he has been left in the will seems a little out of character at first, but becomes clearer as the film goes on. Harriet Walter makes Tony’s ex-wife Margaret a charming character, and the relationship between Broadbent and Walter is sweet to watch on screen. Charlotte Rampling brings a dose of coldness to the film, which is supposed to be mysterious but never quite comes off. The younger versions of the characters are played by Billy Howle and Freya Manor, with Matthew Goode and Emily Mortimer in supporting roles.
Nick Payne adapted Julian Barnes’ novel for the big screen, and while it is obvious he has enjoyed writing the characters in a way that they seem fully rounded and realised, it seems he got twisted up in the book’s mystery, and never manages to pace the film well enough that the audience cares about the resolution of the events from Tony’s past.
As director, Ritesh Batra also struggles with pacing the film in a way that makes the audience want to go on this journey of discovery with Tony. The supporting scenes seem far more interesting than the mystery at hand, with too many holes left for the audience to get a fully rounded feel for just what happened to make Tony so obsessed. That said, the performances are as strong as we might expect from such a stellar cast, but even these are not enough to carry this slow and meandering film.
In all, ‘The Sense of an Ending’ is long, drawn out and ultimately unsatisfying. Broadbent, Walter, Dockery and Rampling do well, but this is not enough for a film that never seems entirely sure what it is trying to say.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Memory is a funny thing. As Fred said in Lost Highway, ‘I like to remember things my own way… Not necessarily the way they happened’. That memorable quote from David Lynch’s delirious film pretty much sums up The Sense Of An Ending, a new film that reflects on the nature of selective personal memory.

    Tony (Jim Broadbent) is a divorced man in his 60s who lives a self-contained life. He’s in touch with his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and his daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), who is having a child independently. He may be retired, but he runs a rare camera shop. He takes a brusque approach to a casual customer and the friendly postman who drops by every morning. One day, Tony receives a letter in the post from Sarah (Emily Mortimer), the late mother of his ex-girlfriend Veronica (Charlotte Rampling). When they were in college, the young Tony and Veronica (Billy Howle and Freya Mavor) had a passionate but brief romance. That is, until Veronica left Tony for his best friend. A diary that might hold the key to the past is meant to be given to Tony, but is now in Veronica’s possession. It’s time for Tony to confront a harsh reality about his younger self…

    Based on the Man Booker Prize-winner from 2011 by Julian Barnes, The Sense Of An Ending is an intriguing film from the outset. We’ve all been there, had our hearts broken. We think we’ve acted honourably and have been mature about moving on, but in reality things are not so simple. Tony is a complex character, but he isn’t the most likeable character either. It’s not so much that he’s flawed, but that he’s not the most immediately relatable character in the story. You want to like him, but he remains at a comfortable distance from the audience throughout.

    That’s not to fault Broadbent’s fine performance at all. He certainly gets across the crucial idea that Tony has simply chosen to forget his dubious behaviour. He’s remained oblivious of the damage he really caused to the lives of people who he once cared about and failed to correct those mistakes later on. Director Ritesh Batri, who previously made the delightful The Lunchbox, makes his English-language debut here. In only his second film, he skillfully moves around the various timeframes, connecting the early scenes with the later scenes with ease.

    It’s important that we see Tony from other angles too, so that’s where Margaret and Susie come in. That gives the character a more rounded feel. The supporting actors all do fine work here, but it’s the glacial poise of the ever-brilliant Rampling that resonates. What robs this film of a fourth star is the unsatisfying ending. It fell short for this reviewer. It felt like there was a missing scene which would tidy up the story and provide closure. Rather similar to the characters in a way. However, The Sense Of An Ending is still a thought-provoking rumination on the nature of memory. ***