Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Christopher Hampton, based on the book by Ian McEwan
Keira Knightley as Cecilia Tallis
James McAvoy as Robbie Turner
Saoirse Ronan as Briony Tallis, aged 13
Brenda Blethyn as Grace Turner
Romola Garai as Briony, 18
Julia West as Betty
Juno Temple as Lola Quincey
Felix von Simson as Pierrot Quincey
Vanessa Redgrace as Briony, Old
Charlie von Simson as Jackson Quincey
123 Minutes(Rated R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality. )
"Atonement" is one of those films that doesn't end with the promise that its opening scenes gave. It is masterfully directed by Joe Wright-I didn't have a website at the time, but when 2005's "Pride & Prejudice" opened, I said that while there was no need for yet another film version of that story to be made, I couldn't have asked for a better director behind it. While I can't agree with all aspects of the screenplay for "Atonement," once again I can't put any fault at Joe Wright, who directs with such grace and perfection that would you think he's been practicing the craft for decades. Mark my words-he will win a Best Director Oscar someday, and if was for "Atonement" I would not mind-although I would really stop the major awards there, technical ones aside. I have not read the beloved novel by Ian McEwan, despite hearing nothing but lavish praise of it, so I can't do a comparison of that, but I can imagine how hard it would be to translate something so universally loved, no matter how much talent is behind and in front of the camera.
Working again with an actress who is probably his muse at the moment Keira Knightley, "Atonement" stars her as Cecilia Tallis, a young rich woman whose attraction to the son of the family housekeeper Robbie is beginning to corrupt the mind of her little sister Briony. Briony has always fancied Robbie, despite being much younger that him, and when she sees something from her bedroom window out of context she begins to get weird thoughts. It is made worse when Robbie writes a letter of apology to Cecilia, and instead gives her a letter with him professing his dreams of doing dirty things to her. Of course Briony reads this note and is convinced that he's a sex maniac. And when she finds a man raping her young cousin Lola, Briony gets back at Robbie by telling the police that it was him-he is arrested and we flash ahead several years later. Robbie was able to get out of jail by joining the army and suffers the horrors of war. Meanwhile Cecilia is a war nurse much like Briony who is now eight teen and is hoping to atone from her deed in the past of lying and costing the two their love, as Cecilia and Robbie continue their romance however distant.
I really enjoyed the first hour or so of this film, leading up to the war scenes. There is this sense of mystery, this sense of wondering what will happen next. Wright directs with a more quick paced, as if really getting into the racing context of a child's imagination. The music is consistent, often being a one note crossed with the typing of a typewriter. After we begin going off to war and see Robbie's side of things, it begins to fall apart a little bit. What remains consistent is Wright's directing-some of the shots in the second half of this film are incredible. A long tracking shot that goes around the military and the war is breathtaking, and begins to rival some of the scenes from last year's "Children of Men," and an image in a movie theatre that is just perfect. I did have a little bit of a hard time finding myself in the middle of this love conflict between Robbie and Cecilia, which is why I think the film suffers more in its second act. The story is clearly one of yearning love, aching the heart throughout the years and past the many miles. But I would have liked a little more background with them-I could not care as much as they wanted me too-an element of the storytelling that wasn't needed in the first half.
The cast, for the most part, is very good. James McAvoy as Robbie is wonderful-he has proved himself numerous times, and was completely overlooked in "The Last King of Scotland" to the point where even though he's the main character, he doesn't appear on the box at all. Both Saoirse Ronan and Young Briony and Romola Garai as the 18 year old one are really the meat of the acting, and Vanessa Redgrave as the older Briony appears briefly, reveals the main plot twist/revelation, only appears for about five minutes, and yet I can see the Academy giving her most of the credit when it comes to supporting acting nominations-it might be the injustice of the year-but after all, they love their vets. Sad how that could get in the way of the real deserving actresses, but hey, that's Hollywood. When it comes to Keira Knightley (who is not in this movie as much as I thought she'd be based on marketing), she doesn't give a bad performance, but its a role I can see quite a few other people doing. She has done better work in the past, even though I still haven't fallen for her charm.
In the end "Atonement" is a well made film, directed to perfection and it certainly looks and sounds great and most of the acting is on target. There could have been a little more to the love story, and a few extra minutes wouldn't have been too bad considering the film flies by as it is. Maybe there are elements missing from the novel that had this film not leave as big a mark on me as the book did to many people, but I'll have to read it and find out for myself. As is, "Atonement" is good, but I do have a feeling that it will get more praise come award season than it should deserve. Not Best Picture, but very good nonetheless.