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‘Sense of an Ending’ meanders through a man’s life

First Published      Last Updated Mar 17 2017 10:05 am

I make it a policy not to read a book before seeing the movie version, because I learned that my expectations are altered by knowing what's going to happen and I get distracted by what got cut in the transition.

That said, after watching director Ritesh Batra's adaptation of "The Sense of an Ending," I want to go back and read Julian Barnes' 2011 Man Booker Prize-winning novel — because I want to understand what was so great that I, and the movie, missed.

Anthony Webster (played by Jim Broadbent) lives the fairly quiet life of a well-off London retiree. He spends his day in his little shop, selling and repairing rare secondhand Leica cameras, and is quietly pleased with himself when his letter to The Guardian gets published. He's divorced from Margaret (Harriet Walter), a barrister, and they have an adult daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery), who is 36, single and about to give birth.




Then Tony gets a letter from a solicitor with news that he has been bequeathed a small amount of money from a Sarah Ford. Tony flashes back to his college days, when he (played by Billy Howle) met Sarah (Emily Browning), the distracted mother of Veronica (Freya Mavor), a prickly beauty whom Tony dated briefly.

As Tony muses on his college days and relates the story to Margaret, he becomes obsessed with acquiring the other half of Sarah's bequest, which is in the hands of Veronica (played in her old age by Charlotte Rampling). As he pursues that item, Tony realizes that some of his college exploits aren't as he remembers them and that he wasn't always as good a person as he thinks he was or is.

Batra (who debuted with the Indian film "The Lunchbox") and screenwriter Nick Payne, a playwright penning his first movie, have assigned themselves the job of creating drama out of what's going on inside Tony's head. The crux of Barnes' story is how Tony wrestles with memory and nostalgia, as he reconciles his present emotional state with that of his headstrong youth. It's an easy feat for a novelist, who can create dense internal monologues, but a nearly impossible task for film.

But darned if Broadbent doesn't nearly pull it off. The British actor, who has played historic figures ("The Young Victoria," "The Iron Lady") and fantastical ones (popping up in the "Harry Potter" franchise), fully inhabits this extraordinarily ordinary man as he wrestles with a thorny past and fresh revelations.

Broadbent gives "The Sense of an Ending" the depth Batra aims to extract from Barnes' book. But the meandering stroll through Tony's timelines and recollections probably works better on the page than on the screen.

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Twitter: @moviecricket

 

AT A GLANCE

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‘The Sense of an Ending’

A man reminisces on his college past in this low-key drama.

Where » Area theaters.

When » Opens Friday, March 17.

Rating » PG-13 for thematic elements, a violent image, sexuality and brief strong language.

Running time » 108 minutes.


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