Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox) directs a story of high drama and university era regrets entitled ” The Sense of An Ending” It is less a coming of age story than a coming to terms one about friendship, desire and repression and the hormones spinning inside a British student.
Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, an older, self-centered British man who runs a vintage camera store that is hardly visited.
Tony gets a certified letter. Almost as an afterthought he opens it and receives a shock. His ex girlfriend’s mother, now deceased has left him a gift: a diary belonging to Adrian, his best friend.
There is one immediate problem. It is in the custody of his ex girlfriend, Veronica (Charlotte Rampling) and she is unwilling to give it up.
What follows is a series of flashbacks as Tony pieces together his every move (or non-move) and becomes wracked with guilt.
As a young man (played by Billy Howle) Tony is a shy university student who meets the spontaneous photographer Veronica (Freya Mavor) and becomes a very close friend to a charismatic fellow student, the existentialist Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn). Tony likes Veronica but she grows distant and both decide to break the relationship.
Very soon after, Adrian and Veronica begin an intimate relationship. Tony is crushed. He writes a reply and days later Adrian dies, a suicide.
The older Tony becomes driven to confront Veronica who is quite cold and perhaps understandably so.
He vents to his ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) and he leaves little to spare. Tony also attends to his daughter, Susie (Michelle Dockery) who is pregnant.
The melodrama is greatly helped by Broadbent who anchors some far out surprises on solid ground. The direction is well handled too, with each sneaky surprise delivered slowly, floating past the eye with an almost Hitchcockian intensity.
Add to the mix a lustful mother named Sarah (Emily Mortimer) and the aforementioned Adrian and one almost has a Patricia Highsmith thriller.
The film is quite compelling when there is a question as to Tony’s motivation. Is he a stalker?
Tony follows Veronica’s every move and we are unsure whether it is Veronica herself that is the obsession or a connection to Adrian.
This is arresting stuff. Only in the last few minutes does the tension dissipate by a hair. One wishes for more of Adrian who is a cypher and takes his own life in a bathtub posed in the manner of David’s Marat/Sade painting. Once the mystery is revealed and the puzzle is solved, there is little to ponder or reflect upon.
Still “The Sense of An Ending” manages to hold us in our seats, even when Broadbent’s words make a fizz rather than a percussive impact.
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