It's notoriously hard to transmute a complex novel into a satisfying film, especially when (as in this case) the time frame of the book is complex, traveling back and forth in time. Therefore it is no great surprise that John Banville's Booker Prize-winning novel loses much of what made it interesting in its transition to the screen, without replacing it with anything more appealing. In other words, this is dull, pointless and pretentious.
The first thing to ask is why anyone thought it would make a film in the first place, and frankly its award-winning status is simply not enough of an excuse. This is no Wolf Hall, but a journey through the past from the present, with frequent pit stops for reminiscing and regretting. And regret is one of the most tedious emotions in cinema.
Max (Ciaran Hands) returns to a boarding house in Ireland which holds a special place in his memory because of his childhood experiences there during a holiday. His wife (Sinead Cusack) has just died, so he does a lot of moping around, and we have flashbacks of the last stages of their relationship. The proprietor of the boarding house is Charlotte Rampling, in full eccentric mode, implying all sorts of oddities, without giving anything away.
Then we starts flashing back, to when Max is a boy on a dull holiday with his parents, when he meets an exotic and cool family (parents Rufus Sewell and Natasha McElhone), and starts to spend a lot of time with them on the beach, before all manner of complex sub-Oedipal stuff starts happening, and time fragments around him. Not that we care one way or the other. Despite Banville himself writing a screenplay from his own book, he doesn't make much of a fist of dealing with the backing and forthing and toing and froing that his story involves.
The key to any narrative is that we should care about the characters, and in this respect, the film fails entirely. Hinds is a terrific actor, but the role only allows him to look hangdog, while the past seems populated by caricatures of real people. There's both too much and too little going on, and by the time it's all over, I was left wondering how it was possible to take so much talent and make so little out of it.