3 stars out of 4 for this adaptation of Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-winning novel, which boasts a cast of Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling and Emily Mortimer.
“This is my reading now of what happened then,” muses Tony, in Julian Barnes’ elegant sigh of a novel, “The Sense of an Ending.” “Or rather, my memory now of my reading then of what was happening at the time.”
Reading the novel — the reflections of Tony, a 60-ish Englishman looking back on his life — is an experience in diving through layers; stages of life overlap like petals as memories shift to accommodate new understanding, and new questions. The movie, directed by Ritesh Batra (who made the lovely, gentle 2014 drama “The Lunchbox”), likewise has an appealing quality of floating. Watching it, we slip back and forth in Tony’s memories, watching them through his eyes.
Movie Review ★★★
‘The Sense of an Ending,’ with Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Charlotte Rampling, Emily Mortimer, Michelle Dockery, Freya Mavor, Matthew Goode, Joe Alwyn. Directed by Ritesh Batra, from a screenplay by Nick Payne, based on the novel by Julian Barnes. 108 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality and brief strong language. Guild 45th.
By his own reckoning, Tony (Jim Broadbent) has lived an unremarkable life; in the book, he explains, “I had wanted life to not bother me too much, and had succeeded — and how pitiful that was.” He is divorced but friendly with his watchful ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter, irresistibly employing her trademark crispness) and close to his grown daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery). He keeps up with a few childhood friends and pleasantly potters around his small camera shop.
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One day, the calm waters of his life are disturbed by an official-looking letter: He’s been left a small inheritance by a woman he met only once: Sarah (Emily Mortimer), the mother of his long-ago girlfriend Veronica. Why would she leave him money, and a mysterious diary? When finally tracked down, why is middle-aged Veronica (Charlotte Rampling, in weary fury) carrying such anger for Tony? What do the little pieces of memory that flash throughout the film — steam hissing in a sink; a hand pulling on fingers — mean? Can two lives, once entwined, ever be truly separate?
It’s a bit of a cliché to say that the book is better than the movie, but in this case it seems necessary: Barnes’ novel, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize, is elevated in a way the movie can’t reach; it has a jewellike perfection to it, while the movie’s simply quite good. Batra has assembled a strong cast, a thoughtful screenplay (by Nick Payne), a meticulous attention to detail — all of which make “The Sense of an Ending” a pleasure to watch. But the book ever-so-subtly slams you in the heart; the movie, just as subtly, only walks near it.