The Sense of an Ending (2017) CBS Films/Drama RT: 108 minutes Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality, brief strong language) Director: Ritesh Batra Screenplay: Nick Payne Music: Max Richter Cinematography: Christopher Ross Release date: March 17, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA) Cast: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer, James Wilby, Edward Holcroft, Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, Joe Alwyn, Peter Wright, Hilton McRae, Jack Loxton, Timothy Innes, Andrew Buckley, Karina Fernandez, Nick Mohammed.
I’ve been asked countless times how I can enjoy bad movies like Xanadu, Grease 2, Howard the Duck and King Kong Lives. It’s simple really. For all their many, MANY shortcomings, at least they’re never boring. I can’t stand being bored at the movies. For me, a boring movie is tantamount to torture. As a critic, I’m obligated to sit through the entire movie; it would be unfair and unethical to review it without watching the whole thing. As such, I rarely walk out on a movie. I can count on one hand the amount of times I voluntarily left a movie before it was over and still have fingers left over. Despite its good attributes, I briefly considered walking out of The Sense of an Ending, an adaptation of the prize-winning novel by Nick Payne. It has good performances from a solid cast but the central mystery is less than intriguing. I considered it but decided to stick it out. Once again, professionalism wins out.
The Sense of an Ending is a textbook example of Brotman’s Law*. As you know, that’s the law that states, “If nothing has happened by the end of the first reel, nothing is going to happen.” I kept waiting for something interesting to happen, a major revelation or something like that, but it never did. After a while, I gave up on the plot (which, to be fair, I’m still not clear on a few details) and focused on the actors’ performances and their characters. I believe in giving credit where credit is due. The characters aren’t entirely uninteresting and the acting is quite good. Because of this, I gave The Sense of an Ending an extra half-star.
Jim Broadbent (Iris) plays Tony Webster, an unfriendly elderly chap who can’t even be bothered to exchange pleasantries with his mailman. He owns a small camera shop in London and seems to make a decent living despite the lack of customers. He’s on civil terms with his ex-wife Margaret (Walter, The Young Victoria) with whom he shares a pregnant 36-year-old daughter Susie (Dockery, Non-Stop). One day, the past comes calling unexpectedly. He receives a registered letter informing him that an ex-girlfriend’s mother has died and left something to Tony in her will. It turns out to be the diary of a school chum who killed himself while at university. The diary is in the possession of said ex-girlfriend Veronica (Rampling, 45 Years) who’s loathe to relinquish it to Tony. Why? It has to do with events of the past.
The story frequently flashes back about 50 years to Tony’s college years when he ran with a group of friends that included Adrian (Alwyn, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). Tony first meets Veronica at a party. She’s a mysterious girl, this one. She says very little about herself. They begin a relationship that ends up going nowhere. He spends an awkward weekend at her family’s house where her mother Sarah (Mortimer, Harry Potter) behaves rather oddly around him. Sometime later, Tony receives a letter from Adrian informing him that he’s now going out with Veronica. He responds by writing a nasty letter to his old friend. Adrian slits his wrists. End of story, at least for the next half-century.
Believe me, The Sense of an Ending sounds more interesting than it really is. Tony spends most of the movie trying to figure out why Veronica won’t hand over the diary that’s legally (not morally) his. It seems that he purposefully forgot certain details of past events. Even though he’s spent his life trying to forget the whole mess, it’s always been with him. It’s why he’s never really been happy. It’s why his marriage didn’t work out. He thought he was done with the past but it wasn’t done with him. It’s finally time for him to face up to certain facts and deal with the pain and guilt. He wants closure. Oh yeah, there’s also a matter of a secret that Veronica is keeping from him. I won’t divulge that info but it’s the part of the movie that left a bit confused as to what transpired in the past.
Broadbent is a very talented actor but it’s difficult to see him as a not particularly likable sort. He usually plays such affable characters. He pulls it off though. His character transformation is believable. Rampling is also very good as the resentful Veronica. It’s clear that she blames Tony for Adrian’s suicide based on the cold demeanor she displays whenever they meet. The Sense of an Ending comes to life in their scenes together. Walter and Dockery are also quite good as ex-wife and daughter respectively. As Tony deals with the past, he’s able to mend relationships in the present. The shifts between past and present are smooth. The cinematography by Christopher Ross is great. I like how he imbues the flashback scenes with a hazy, faded quality. It suggests the hazy and faded nature of memory. Directed by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox), The Sense of an Ending isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just one that isn’t as intriguing as it should be. It deals with a mystery; by definition it should be intriguing. It’s not and that’s a pity, it has so much going for it otherwise. Maybe I ought to give this one a second chance at some point.
*= I can’t take credit for this. It was the late Roger Ebert that originally coined this phrase.