Director: Ritesh Batra
Producers: David M Thompson and Ed Rubin
Screenplay: Nick Payne
Based on: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer, Billy Howle, Joe Alwyn
Tony Webster (the ever-reliable Jim Broadbent) leads a reclusive, quiet existence until long buried secrets from his past force him to face the imperfect recollections of his younger self, the truth about his first love and the disturbing consequences of decisions made long ago.
While not a must see film it is well-made, intriguing and mysterious, more of a slow burner than a page turner. The first part unfolded slowly and there was as much mystery as there were questions answered throughout the film. A major theme throughout is the recognition of how the memory of youth can directly influence the present.
The film provides a good mystery and exploration of the complications of human (and family) relationships. The film is set in two different time periods and it was interesting watching actors inhabit the same role as younger and older versions of the same characters.
Jim Broadbent was excellent as the curmudgeonly older version of Tony Webster, an introvert whose ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) remains one of his best friends in later life.
Charlotte Rampling plays the older Veronica, Tony’s first love, and despite not being on the screen for long, she effectively conveys a sense of being her own person, a mystery that Tony was unable to resolve or understand for who she actually was.
Suggested events were hinted at but some were left unexplained, and it is tantalising wanting to know why one character had such a strong hold over Tony more than forty years later. There are also parallels between the past and the present in the situations characters found themselves in, separated by several decades.
The screenplay, adapted by Nick Payne from the novel by Julian Barnes, may cause admirers of the novel to criticise the licences taken with the original version. Director Ritesh Batra and screenplay writer Nick Payne remain faithful to the essence of the novel, but have generalised places and characters in a way better suited to a cinematic rendering.
For example, the novel relies heavily on the internalised nature of Tony’s narration in the book, which would not have translated easily to the screen unless there was excessive reliance on voice-overs and extended shots of Tony just sitting around looking introspective. Therefore, some minor characters who were just memories for Tony were fleshed out into fully formed roles in the film, so his subjective perception of other characters was counter-balanced by them having their own personalities separate from his view of them.
It also becomes obvious as the film progresses that Tony’s memory is not entirely reliable, which affects how the audience views him and his recollections. Having the other characters acting independently of him allows us to question how much of what we learn from Tony is the truth or just his version of it, which adds to the mystery.
The film was photographed and edited in a careful, slow way that will appeal to those who enjoy settling in for a slower paced unfolding that combines old mysteries with the gradual awakening of living in the present and coming to terms with what happened so long ago.
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