Movie reviews: The Sense of an Ending, Fast & Furious 8, The Handmaiden

Here are the top three films you don’t want to miss this week, writes Declan Burke.

Movie reviews: The Sense of an Ending, Fast & Furious 8, The Handmaiden

The Sense of an Ending 3/5

Fast & Furious 8 2/5

The Handmaiden 4/5

A strange bequest unsettles the placid existence of divorcé Tony Webster (Jim Broadbent) as The Sense of an Ending (15A) opens.

Previously content to potter around as the semi-retired proprietor of a specialist camera shop, Tony becomes haunted by the past when he is willed the diary of an old college pal, Adrian.

In flashback we learn that the young Tony (Billy Howle) fell deeply in love with Veronica (Freya Mavor) while at university, a momentous affair which shaped his life forever, especially when Veronica later married his friend Adrian (Joe Alwyn).

When the bereaved Veronica (now played by Charlotte Rampling) refuses to hand over Adrian’s diary, Tony sets out to track her and it down.

Adapted by Nick Payne from Julian Barnes’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel, and directed by Ritesh Batra, The Sense of an Ending is a meditation on memory, and the essential, if flawed, part it plays in the story of our lives that we tell ourselves.

Tony is clever and erudite as he tells his long-suffering ex-wife Margaret (Harriet Walter) about his romance with Veronica, but the mood of fond reminiscing is soon replaced by a harsher tone, as the truth about his youthful indiscretions gradually comes to light.

The revelation that our memories are not only faulty but engineered to portray ourselves to ourselves in a favourable light isn’t exactly earth-shattering, but absorbing performances from Broadbent, Rampling, Mavor and Howle result in an enjoyably thoughtful, nuanced tale, albeit one in which the stuff of real drama — the loves and hates, the passions and betrayals — seem to have taken place offstage, and a long time ago.

Vin Diesel cries in Fast & Furious 8 (12A). He may have blubbed a snotty one before but because the entries to this fast cars-faster quips franchise are largely interchangeable (bar the one set in Tokyo and the one where the late Paul Walker dies) it certainly didn’t grab the attention.

The reason for the tears is a solid one though, giving this eighth entry a strong emotional backbone and a real reason for the ensuing carnage: Cyberterrorist Cypher (an icy Charlize Theron) has kidnapped Vin’s baby son and forced him to turn against his buddies (Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, and new wife Michelle Rodriguez among them) to steal an EMP, with which she plans to hold the world to ransom.

Backing up the team is Kurt Russell’s government spook, giving them access to all kinds of flash vehicles.

Straight Outta Compton and Friday director F Gary Gray handles the verbals sufficiently enough but this outing doesn’t boast the wow factor when it comes to the stunts, which have become increasingly ludicrous; in fact, bar a scenario with a Russian sub, the car action is greatly trimmed back as the gang find themselves more concerned with grapples involving (bizarrely) unarmed Russian separatist mercenaries.

If the ‘Fast and Furious’ films hadn’t jumped the shark before now then Jason Statham shooting his way through a plane of bad guys with a baby on his hip certainly puts paid to that. Helen Mirren pops up as well. Two more are in the pipeline…

Set during the 1930s, when Korea was occupied by Japan, The Handmaiden (18s) begins as a stylish crime thriller, as veteran thief and forger Sook-Hee (Tae-ri Kim) takes a position as lady’s maid to Japanese heiress Hideko (Min-hee Kim), with the intention of persuading Hideko to elope with her art teacher, Count Fujiwara (Jung-woo Ha).

The plan is for Sookee and the fake Count to take Hideko to Japan, and there commit her to an insane asylum before making off with her fortune, but the duplicitous pair have reckoned without Hideko’s own cunning and a cynicism hard-earned in the years she spent growing up in the house of her depraved uncle Kouzuki (Jin-woong Jo).

Told in three distinct parts, with each part revealing the same events from a different perspective, The Handmaiden evolves from an elegantly constructed tale of double- and triple-cross infused into a revenge thriller that is both darkly sensuality and perversely erotic.

Chan-wook Park directs a highly stylised adaption of Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith, each micro-managed scene echoing the precision of the carefully cultivated mannerisms of the subjugated Koreans as they attempt to ape their Japanese conquerors.

Beautifully framed and shot by cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, charged with a cracking sexuality, the film glides effortlessly through its frequent twists and reversals towards its gloriously gothic and noir-laden denouement.

Jin-woong Jo’s crazed uncle aside, it’s a fine ensemble piece, with Min-hee Kim taking the laurels for her performance of a multi-layered femme fatale.

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