Film reviews round-up: The Sense of an Ending, The Hatton Garden Job

Including a Julian Barnes novel adaptation and a retelling of Hatton Garden jewellery heist

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The Independent Culture

The Sense of an Ending

★★★☆☆

Ritesh Batra, 108 mins, starring: Jim Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Freya Mavor, Michelle Dockery, Emily Mortimer


Jim Broadbent made The Sense Of An Ending at around the same time he played Scrooge on the London stage. There is more than a hint of a latterday Scrooge about his role in the film (adapted from the novel by Julian Barnes.) He plays Tony Webster, a long-divorced man who is very suspicious of the outside world. His own relatives call him a “curmudgeon.” He runs a small camera shop, selling expensive second-hand Leicas. It’s not the ghost of Christmas past that comes to haunt him but a legal letter drawing him back to his first love affair many years before.

In the early scenes, the film is very humdrum indeed. Tony Webster is a cautious and seemingly mediocre man, living a routine life. Indian director Ritesh Batra’s previous feature was The Lunchbox and he fills this film too with scenes of eating. We see Tony munching away at his lunchtime sandwich on a park bench or gorging himself on pasta at an Italian restaurant where he is meeting his ex-wife, QC Margaret (Harriet Walter.) She is the one who often has to listen, like the priest in confessional, as he rakes back over some grim incidents in his past.

At first glance, Tony appears another of those decent, avuncular types that Broadbent has played so often over the years. He’s irritable and clearly a little selfish but he’s always on hand to drive his pregnant daughter (Michelle Dockery) to the hospital and seems grounded enough. Batra emphasises the banality and repetitiveness of his existence as a middle-class man in late middle-age, going about his business. In his opening voice-over, taken from the novel, he talks about feeling as a young man that he was being held in “some kind of holding pen,” waiting to be “released” into his life. The disappointment is that adult life itself has turned out to be just another holding pen.

Given the film’s low-key and elliptical approach, you can’t help but wonder where the drama is going to come from. That, though, is the point. This pettifogging man with his routine life turns out to be involved, albeit distantly, in events as bloody, vicious and embroiled as anything in a Greek tragedy. Gradually, as we hear about a missing diary and a letter written many years before, we piece together the mystery.

Tony (played as a teenage schoolboy by Billy Howie) was a precocious kid with artistic pretensions. He befriended a newcomer to his school, Adrian Finn (Joe Alwyn), an equally well-read boy, defiant and clever enough to talk back to the teachers. Tony also met his first girlfriend, the young photographer Veronica (Freya Mavor) and was close enough to her to be introduced to her family.

The more closely Tony looks back at his past, the creepier he seems and the more intriguing the film (which starts off in very torpid fashion) becomes. This middle-class English everyman turns out to be a voyeur, a stalker and someone who, for perhaps understandable reasons, acted with extreme malice toward those closest to him. In a fit of adolescent jealousy and anger, he put a curse on them.

Broadbent’s performance is fascinating. He manages the feat of seeming both sympathetic and repulsive at the same time. He won’t stop trampling into his past, however much it discomforts those around him. The storytelling style remains oblique, sometimes frustratingly so. One of the most puzzling characters, actually seen on screen only very briefly, is Veronica’s mother, Sarah Ford (Emily Mortimer), who quotes Philip Larkin, cooks fry-ups and is strangely and disturbingly flirtatious.

The storyline here has overlaps with that of Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years in which details of a love affair and a death from long ago have a seismic effect on the seemingly stable lives of protagonists in the present day. It shares one of the same stars, Charlotte Rampling, who here plays Tony’s childhood sweetheart Veronica as an older woman. She’s a chilly and very aloof figure but Rampling is a strong enough actress to give us a sense of the character’s suffering and vulnerability as well as of her hostility to Tony.

What begins as a nostalgic and humdrum family drama grows more and more compelling the darker it becomes. If Broadbent’s character has a hint of Scrooge about him, there is something very Dickensian about the sentimental and upbeat coda here. The film is at its strongest in its most despairing and unflinching moments. These can’t be explained away in just another happy ending.


Fast & Furious 8 (12A)

★★★☆☆

F. Gary Gray, 136 mins, starring:  Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, 

Vin Diesel goes “rogue” in the latest instalment of The Fast And The Furious. The film is every bit as silly and enjoyable as its predecessors. The plotting will probably leave you scratching your head in petrol-fumed bewilderment, even if you have seen the seven previous films, but at no point are you ever more than two or three minutes away from some wham bang action in the shape of a chase, a crash or a fight. 

President Obama should probably have been thanked in the credits. It is down to his ending of the US embargo of Cuba that the filmmakers were allowed into Havana. That's the setting for the bravura opening sequence in which Vin Diesel's Dom roars around town in an ancient and combustible car that appears to have been constructed out of pots, pans, Coca-Cola tins and spare parts from his cousin's fishing boat. It's wacky races style fun, very stylishly shot and with absolutely no bearing on the rest of the story. For reasons that are also hard to fathom, Charlize Theron's Cipher is waiting in prey, imitating a dimwitted American tourist with engine trouble when we all know she is a deadly cyber criminal. It is at this point, about 10 minutes in, that matters become confusing. Dom is ostensibly on honeymoon with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) but Cipher is able to blackmail him into forgetting about his wife, betraying his crew and joining the dark side in a matter of seconds.

Cipher's agenda is hard to fathom. Is she out to destroy humanity? Does she want money or does she have a grudge against the superpowers? It is never quite clear. What is apparent, though, is that only the only way she and Vin Disel can be stopped is if the old team join forces with their previous arch enemy Jason Statham and go after them. 

Hobbs (The Rock) is initially reluctant to save the world because it is the middle of his daughter's little league soccer season and he has to get his priorities right. 

Changes in location are as hard to follow as the sudden shifts in plot direction. We start in Cuba. One moment, everybody is in Berlin. There is an interlude in a maximum security prison where both Jason Statham (back as Deckard) and The Rock are inmates. We spend some time in New York and the final section of the film unfolds in the frozen limits of Siberia. 

Director F. Gary Gray combined the demolition derby-style action with plenty of cheesy, tongue-in-cheek comedy. Helen Mirren is in Dot Cotton mode as Deckard's East End mum, a gangstress who will do anything to protect her sons, even work with their most inveterate enemies. 

The film is essentially a compilation of action set pieces with some token character based scenes linking them together. The most ingenious moments are those when Cipher uses her computer wizardry to gain control of almost all the cars in New York. She uses her fleet of driverless zombie automobiles as part of a plot to apprehend a top Russian and get hold of the country's nuclear codes (which he is conveniently carrying in a briefcase). Almost equally striking is the scene in which Vin Diesel's car is harpooned by his old team as if it is a whale that they're trying to pull in from the ocean. 

Less convincing is the late snow-bound hokum involving a Russian nuclear submarine, various heat seeking missiles, lots of heavies and some reckless driving across the ice. 

You can't help but cringe a little at the growing bromance between Statham and The Rock. The more they threaten to beat one another up, the more we realise how much they like each other. By a distance, the pick of the performances here comes from the dimple-chinned baby boy who accompanies Statham in one of the film's most violent action sequences. This little tot gurgles and smiles in utterly winning fashion as Statham shoots and bludgeons a small army of baddies around him. They're in a life or death situation but that doesn't stop Statham cracking jokes about nappy-changing or from pulling faces at the baby even as it so effortlessly upstages him. 

Theron is a convincing villainess but the scriptwriters could surely have let us know a little more about her agenda. For his part, Vin Diesel doesn't seem especially bothered at being blackmailed by her. As long as he is allowed to drive souped up cars at maximum speed, he doesn't mind whose side he is on, who lives and who dies. He is the same impassive presence throughout.

This is an oddly therapeutic film to watch. There's lots of noise, lots of colour, lots of action. It is a movie full of sound and fury – and the fact that it signifies absolutely nothing seems neither here nor there. 


The Hatton Garden Job (15)

★★☆☆☆

Ronnie Thompson, 91 mins, starring: Joely Richardson, Matthew Goode, Clive Russell, Stephen Moyer, Phil Daniels, David Calder, Larry Lamb.

New heist film The Hatton Garden Job hitting cinemas

There is a hint of old Ealing comedies in Ronnie Thompson’s likeable if very undercharged telling of the story of the 2015 Hatton Garden jewellery/safety deposit box heist. This was the robbery carried out over an Easter weekend by a bunch of old-timers. The OAP thieves here having hearing aids, diabetes and creaking bones. They’re rogues who talk in rhyming slang. Wrangling them and overseeing the job is a younger man (Matthew Goode), a career criminal recently out of prison. It’s his voice-over, straight from the Guy Ritchie school of screenwriting, that sets the scene.

This is “an old school gig that needs an old school crew”. David Calder as Terry Perkins (who’s providing the “muscle”) wears a flat cap and looks as if he’s wandered out of an episode of Last Of The Summer Wine. Larry Lamb as Brian has presence and leadership qualities – although it doesn’t help that he’s bedbound the day before the robbery. Phil Daniels as diamond geezer Danny has a child-like enthusiasm for the task at hand. It’s not money that is motivating him but nostalgia and the prospect of some excitement. Clive Russell is the diligent lookout and getaway driver who grows careless at a crucial moment. The supporting cast is full of petty crooks and bent coppers. The most absurd figure is the Hungarian criminal boss and femme fatale Erzebet (played in tongue-in-cheek fashion by Joely Richardson, with long blonde hair and a very low cleavage as if she’s a slightly older version of Rita Hayworth’s Gilda.) One problem with the film’s good-natured, humorous storytelling style is that there is no element of threat here whatsoever. These are lovable old-timers, not Kray-like thugs and nothing very much seems at stake whether the job goes well or badly.

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