The Sense of an Ending

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I found out this movie was based on a 2011 Man Booker Prize winning novel by Julian Barnes (screenplay by playwright Nick Payne), and it certainly would’ve worked better as a novel. It also would’ve worked better with a different director. Ritesh Batra disappointed me with what he did with The Lunchbox, which like this movie, has nice touches with the small moments, but just doesn’t pack the punch it should.

In the first half of this two hour movie, my wife and I both dozed off for a few minutes. Yeah, it’s one of those British movies. I was thinking about how Jim Broadbent bored me to tears in Another Year, and thought this would be another film like that. Yet as the story started slowly revealing what it was all about, I became fascinated.

Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) is retired, and has opened a camera store. He gets a registered letter. In one technique that gets overdone quickly, they keep delaying the contents of the letter. He starts to open it, but a customer comes into the shop. Later he opens it, but is distracted by his daughter getting into the car. It takes awhile for us to learn the contents, and this is done with other things in the movie as we’re shown flashbacks to a party where Tony met a lover he had in the ‘60s. At least we get to hear the terrific Count Five song “Psychotic Reaction.” Perfect lyrics for what he’s feeling, too. It opens with the lines: I feel depressed, I feel so bad / ‘Cause you’re the best girl that I ever had…

What is so interesting in watching this character is his self-absorbed snottiness. It’s done so subtly. The way he doesn’t make conversation with the postal worker, or the customer that comes into his shop. He seems to be a doting dad to his single, pregnant daughter. But from comments she makes, you can tell this guy has been a pill his entire life.

So the letter informs him that a woman has died and was in possession of a diary she wants him to have. The diary belonged to a friend of his that killed himself when they were back in college. That occurred after the guy started up an affair with Tony’s ex-girlfriend Veronica (Freya Mavor in flashbacks, and the always terrific Charlotte Rampling in present day). His ex-girlfriend doesn’t want to give the diary to him, and that leads to him tracking her down to discuss the matter. As he tells a lot of this to his ex-wife (Harriet Walter, in a terrific performance), she makes some comments about him always having a thing for her. In one instance when he’s talking about her, she hands him a napkin. When he asks what it’s for, she says, “To wipe up your drool.”

Emily Mortimer is an interesting choice as Veronica’s mother, although after the entire story is revealed, some of the things she said/did, didn’t make a lot of sense.

Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) is good as the daughter, often giving her dad a hard time.

Harriet Walter (Downton Abbey, Sense and Sensibility) is even better at calling her ex on his BS and recollection of the past.

Matthew Goode, who is usually good in everything, seems miscast as the history teacher and brother of Veronica; although he does get to deliver the powerful line “The self-delusions of the defeated.”

Perhaps this movie will be too slow for some. Others might think it needs more of a plot. Certainly the first half could’ve moved along better, but the third act was so powerful. It was a lovely ending, and it got me thinking about how all of us think back on those old relationships. The grass is always greener.

Now, they screened this movie at the Landmark in Hillcrest. After all the time they spent remodeling the theatre, many of us in the crowd were upset with the fact that we kept hearing the loud movie playing nearby. It happened at least five times during quiet moments, when characters are reflecting on things, and we’re getting into it. At least four other people were complaining about it as we walked out.

I’d suggest you catch this at the Angelika Film Center on Carmel Mountain Road. I’ve never had that problem in their theatres, and the seats recline a lot more.

This gets 3 stars out of 5.