“The Sense of an Ending” curiously feels lukewarm and distant. Although this is a technically well-made drama film equipped with a handful of good performances, the movie simply moves from one narrative point to another while not generating enough emotional momentum for us, and we only come to observe its main characters from the distance without caring much about them. When an old mystery inside the story is finally fully revealed, there is not much surprise for us, and the eventual ending only gives us the mild sense of a closure while lacking emotional resonance to linger on us.
Jim Broadbent plays Anthony ‘Tony’ Webber, an old divorcé running a small camera shop in London. The early part of the movie shows us how stable and routine his daily life is; he wakes up early in the morning and then starts his another day with a cup of hot coffee, and most of his daytime is spent at his camera shop, which does not have many customers but mostly looks neat with Leica cameras and other high-quality cameras in display.
He has been accustomed to living alone, but then there come two different changes into his life. One comes from his pregnant daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery), who is about to give a birth to her baby and needs some help from her father whenever her mother Margaret (Harriet Walter) is too busy to be available. Although their relationship was over a long time ago, Tony and Margaret have been amiable to each other like good friends, and Tony is certainly willing to help his daughter, as reflected by one amusing scene where he accompanies her in a class for pregnant women.
The other one comes from a letter sent by someone he knew around 40 years ago. It is from the mother of his old lover Veronica (Charlotte Rampling), who bequeathed the diary of his close friend and a small sum of money to him shortly before her recent death. Perplexed by this, Tony tries to contact Veronica for receiving the diary, but he is only notified by her family lawyer that she refuses to see him – and she does not even send that diary to him despite her dead mother’s request.
As Tony wonders why Veronica chooses to stay away from him, his mind naturally goes back to when they were young, and the movie accordingly goes back and forth between present and past. He often reflects on his past while Margaret patiently listens to him, and we get a series of flashback scenes showing young Tony (Billy Howle), young Veronica (Freya Mavor), and Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), who was the owner of that diary.
Tony remembers well when he encountered Veronica for the first time. When they came across each other at a night party, they were instantly drawn to each other, and he soon found himself visiting her family house along with her. Everyone including Veronica’s mother was nice to him, and it looked like he and Veronica could move onto the next step of their relationship as they left her family house.
However, as Tony remembers more of the past between him and Veronica, we come to learn that things became somehow complicated later. Not long after Tony and Veronica came back from her family house, Adrian happened to get involved with Veronica, and it is revealed later that Adrian and Veronica’s relationship ended quite badly for some reason.
The screenplay by Nick Payne, which is based on the Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name by Julian Barnes, maintains its level of intrigue to some degrees at least during its first two acts, and the director Ritesh Batra, who previously made “The Lunchbox” (2013), did a competent job of establishing two different moods for the story. While the flashback scenes in the movie feel warm and gentle with a bit of haziness as nostalgic pieces of memories, the scenes set in the present part are usually accompanied with gray melancholy, and this contrast further accentuates the feeling of loss and regret in the present part.
However, the movie keeps sticking to its reserved attitude even after Tony comes to realize how unreliable his memory is during the third act. Although what happened among Tony, Veronica, and Adrian is devastating indeed, the movie remains to be mild and detached as before, and it is disappointing to see how its story fizzles in the end without much dramatic impact.
Anyway, the movie is still watchable mainly thanks to its good main cast members. Jim Broadbent, who has been always reliable in many different movies ranging from “Iris” (2001) to “Big Game” (2014), is perfectly cast as an ordinary old guy who comes to face what he has deliberately overlooked for many years, and the other performers in the movie are also solid in their respective roles. While Billy Howle, Freya Mavor, and Joe Alwyn bring youthfulness to their scenes as required, Emily Mortimer is saucy and alluring in her brief appearance, and Harriet Walter and Charlotte Rampling are fine in their respective conversation scenes with Broadbent.
I do not like “The Sense of an Ending” enough to recommend it to you, but the movie is not without appeal, considering what I observed during a screening I attended this Saturday afternoon. The screening room was packed with audiences, and they seemed satisfied with the movie as they walked out of the screening room along with me. In case of me, I just wanted to check out Barnes’ novel someday, and that was all.