The Sense of an Ending Jim Broadbent, Harriet Walter, Billy Howle. Directed by Ritesh Batra. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday at Regal Downtown Summerlin, Green Valley Ranch and Village Square.
Jim Broadbent is always a welcome presence whenever he shows up in a movie—usually as someone’s dad—so it’s refreshing to see the veteran character actor get a relatively rare leading role in The Sense of an Ending, based on Julian Barnes’ acclaimed novel. Broadbent brings sensitivity and humor to his portrayal of Tony Webster, a sour retiree who’s kind of a jerk, but in a likable, mostly forgivable way. Tony’s humdrum life is upended when he learns that the mother of his former girlfriend Veronica has passed away and left Tony an item in her will—only Veronica, whom Tony has not spoken to in decades, refuses to part with it. This sends Tony on a spiral of reminiscing, reevaluating the behavior of his younger self as he tells his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) the story of his troubled relationship with Veronica.
That story takes up much of the movie’s first half via flashbacks, showing how young Tony (Billy Howle) and Veronica (Freya Mavor) met, how their relationship progressed and how it eventually intersected with Tony’s friend Adrian (Billy Alwyn). As the older Tony unfolds the story for Margaret, screenwriter Nick Payne and director Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox) structure it like a thriller, strategically withholding potentially devastating revelations. But the tone remains low-key, and the ultimate reveal of why Tony and Veronica stopped speaking, and why Veronica doesn’t want Tony to have the item in question, is a bit underwhelming. Tony makes apologies—to Margaret, to his pregnant daughter Susie (an underused Michelle Dockery) and to the older Veronica (Charlotte Rampling)—but it’s hard to see any real progression in the character. Broadbent is appealing as always, whether fussing over old cameras in the shop Tony runs or professing love in his understated manner, but the movie is too subdued to make full use of his talents.