‘The Sense of an Ending’
How do you film an unfilmable novel? Pack it silly with great English actors! Tackling Julian Barnes’ 2011 award-gobbler is a fool’s errand, with its unreliable narrator and gradually parsed out backstory and flashbacks that may or may not be on the level. Alain Resnais would have nailed it. Ritesh Batra (“The Lunchbox”) does not, but he puts in a solid effort. It’s not just the casting agent who deserves credit; Batra and screenwriter Nick Payne work hard to retain the subtlety and fuzzy nuances of the source, ensuring something more complex than seen in its groaning trailer.
Jim Broadbent is at peak powers as an anti-social curmudgeon prompted by an acquaintance’s death to recall his wild youth of heartache and selfish destruction. “Ending” is being sold as a typical English middlebrow bonanza, and sometimes it plays that way. But more often than not it stays messy, not reductive. It’s messy in other ways, too, yet it’s still a procession of great scenes with great actors, in particular Harriet Walker as our hero’s ex-wife. Called on to perform the unenviable task of sitting there as Broadbent tells her about his past — cue epic flashback blocks! — she helps make these potentially thumb-twiddling scenes flirty, lively and funny. (Charlotte Rampling, as the older version of an old flame, is also at her cagey best.) And yet of course it has no idea how to end.