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Review of “Atonement” (2007) R 122min

January 6th, 2008 by Maxim · 1 Comment · 7,931 Views


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Atonement (2007)

Christopher Hampton based his screenplay on the novel by Ian McEwan, and Joe Wright directed.

Joe Wright is a very talented director. In 2007 Joe became youngest director presenting at Venice Film Festival. At 34 years old he was already famous as director of Pride & Prejudice (2005), in which he directed Keira Knightley in an Oscar-nominated performance as Lizzie Bennet. His latest movie, Atonement, where he again reunited with Keira Knightley, has been nominated for seven Golden Globes (Best Motion Picture/Drama, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Performance By An Actor, Best Performance by An Actress, Best Performance By An Actress In Supporting Role and finally, Best Screenplay).

The plot: 13-year old girl Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan, later Romola Garai and then at the end of the movie Vanessa Redgrave) has a childish crush on her older sister Cecilia’s (Keira Knightley) lover, educated twenty-something year old housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy – Shameless, Narnia, The Last King of Scotland, Becoming Jane). She is unable to rationalize her feelings, and she is very romantic, poetic and dreamy girl who passes summer type-writing romantic plays. One day she saw Robbie and Cecilia through the window in, what she thought, was a rather compromising situation, and felt compelled to interfere in their relationship to the point that she accused Robbie of a crime he did not commit. The consequences of her lies destroyed many lives, including her own as the story spans over several decades including World War II.

The good: very strong, exceptional, dramatic performances by each and every actor. Compelling, believable, complex and deep characters. Very beautiful, amazing cinematography. I especially liked lighting and portrait-like quality of the picture achieved through the use of a long lens. The first half of the movie that happens in England in 1935 when Briony is 13, everything is in soft tones like a series of portraits in watercolor lit with magic light. The story jumps around in time a bit, but not confusing at all: if it was a movie made for TV it could probably work in split-screen or picture-in-picture format: essentially this movie feels like we are watching a novel being written, and every time the story jumps in time it’s like the author just added a side-note the complements the whole story. To complete this effect, the musical score that utilizes type-writer as a percussive instrument is absolutely brilliant. Very well recreated mass scene on the beach at Dunkirk as British troops retreat from France that’s being invaded during WWII – a scene of demoralization and chaos, with a man hanging off the Ferris wheel, cars and guns being destroyed, a man shooting horses – in contrast with archive war propaganda rolls – such a powerful scene. Beautiful landscapes and lovely effect when bombers fly by, but we don’t see the actual bombers – only their shadows or silhouettes – like in a dream about war. Nicely told story about mental state of nurses just out of school having to deal with wounded coming from the battlefields: how they see burned people, people without limbs, people in pain, all bloodied, and they have to treat their wounds, wash them, comfort them. The theater was full, and after the end people were leaving the theater speechless. Another movie I can think of that is similar to Atonement artistically is Girl With The Pearl Earring.

The bad: the dialogs at times were overly romanticized, although they by no means were cheesy, and, to think of it, they were part of the novel being written before our eyes, and that part of the novel was being written by an author who was going through romantic period of her life. The story is somewhat similar to Titanic and The English Patient in a sense that it wants to be an epic love story spanning several decades. The second and third acts of the movie are not as strong as the first where everything was being set up and built up. The love between Cecilia and Robbie is not properly established: all we see is some flirting, then sex scene and then they start promising each other eternal love. Again, I have to remind myself that the story is being told through the prism of Briony and how she saw their relationship. The only fully-developed character was 13-ear-old Briony.

It’s amazing how much damage can a silly teenage girl do.

Robert Duval is 77 today. Happy Birthday!

** 80th Academy Awards Update (Feb 24, 2008) **

Dario Marianelli has won an Oscar for Best Original Score for Atonement.

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Tags: Drama · Epics/Historical · Foreign · France · Movies · Romance · UK · War

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