Ritesh Batra's The Sense of an Ending might disappoint you if you've read the suspenseful, tear-jerking Julian Barnes novel on which it's based. Batra kills the mystery part of its story -- about a 60-year-old man who comes to understand that he's artfully edited his own memories of a catastrophic event in his youth -- and instead pushes the adaptation toward the humanism that marked her debut, The Lunchbox. This renders a good chunk of the plot a wash. Good thing Batra's really adept at the human portraits.
Told from the perspective of Tony Webster -- in the present (Jim Broadbent) and the 1960s-era past (Billy Howle) -- the story begins with older Tony receiving a mysterious letter from Sara (Emily Mortimer), the mother of one of his former lovers, Veronica (Charlotte Rampling/Freya Mavor). Sara's died and left Tony the diary of one of his old schoolmates, Adrian (Joe Alwyn), who also used to go with Veronica and committed suicide back in the '60s.
If this sounds convoluted, it is, but Batra's contending with his source material, which demands all this be explained to establish the mystery and the many scenes of conflicting backstories -- to explore the fallibility of memory. Tony's gregarious ex-wife, Margaret (Harriet Walter) quips about how difficult it is to parse this confounding story. Margaret and their pregnant daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) become a kind of Greek chorus, trying to set Tony right as he tracks down Veronica to get the diary -- What's in it? Why did Sara want him to have it?
Broadbent and Walter are perfectly paired, their characters' familiarity and contentions always evident. Between them we see a far more compelling story.