Friday, February 15, 2008


This is a wonderful movie, and probably worthy of the best picture nomination. As for the win? Since my actual pick (American Gangster) wasn't even nominated, I'd have to go with There Will Be Blood. Atonement is certainly up there, though.

Based on Ian McEwan's novel of the same name (which I have never read), Atonement tells a story in three parts. In the 1935, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) accuses Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) of assaulting her older sister, Celia (Keira Knightly), and a friend, Lola (Juno Temple). Despite these claims being false, he is arrested and enlisted in the army to fight in World War II. Cecilia professes her love for him, and says that she will remain true- which she does. The movie then follows Robbie through the war, eventually landing him in Dunkirk. Meanwhile, Briony has dropped out of school and has become a nurse, perhaps in an attempt to cleans herself from the tragedy she inflicted on her sister and Robbie. Any more than this will give away more than the previews, and more than you want me to.

The problem with this movie is that it's a little choppy and disjointed. The story takes place over a long period of time, and in an attempt the reconcile those time differences, director Joe Write uses flashbacks and "what if" scenarios. These don't seem to work for me, especially when Robbie is forced to say "back to the story at hand." That strikes me as a very clumsy transition. The whole period of Robbie in the war itself seemed a little tacked on. I can't compare this to the book, but that period didn't drive the story much at all. Also, without telling too much, the ending was a pretty big letdown.

I don't want this to sound like a negative review, because there were some wonderful points. The first act with the growing sexual tension between Cecilia and Robbie was fantastic. The combination of many people visiting this mansion, and the hot summer temperatures made this a virtually explosive situation. Add into this already volatile situation, a morally questionable 13 year old with a crush on the same boy, and another man genuinely guilty of assault, and you get a very well crafted situation.

Visually, it's spectacular. The pleasant opening is filled with vibrant colors that quickly drain with the mood. And the 5 minute Dunkirk shot rivals any long tracking shot in history. Underneath all of this is a unique soundtrack with a typewriter motif. Everything started with a letter, and writing drives Briony through her whole life.

The prevalent theme is handled flawlessly. The idea that one little event will change (for the better or worse) many peoples lives in the future is very evident. You see the results of Briony's lie on Cecilia, Robby, herself, and even Lola and the real rapist. In a childish, jealous moment, she destroyed the lives of those closest to her, and spent the rest of her own life dealing with that. The movie is powerful, and fantastically acted. I just wish that it spent more time on the relationships between the people, and less on the war itself. Granted, this allowed the movie to have some spectacular shots, but that should never dictate the story. Great movie, but not best picture.


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