on 27 June 2014
More than one of the great romantic films of all time, "Atonement" is a pure masterpiece utilizing a three-act structure spanning several decades that begins in an English manor house before World War II and proceeds through the war and after.
The main character is a 13-year-old fledgling writer, Briony, whose imaginative sensibilities congeal with her infatuation with a man who loves her older sister to result in dire consequences she only later understands. From the dramatic and passionate momentum of its early sequences underscored by a music score utilizing a typewriter in its orchestration, it brilliantly employs both child and adult points of view to relate the story of a great romance that is disrupted from the events that occur.
If the story and screenplay seem to have "Doctor Zhivago" characteristics, Joe Wright's magnificent and sensual direction brings out all the passion and tragedy with a beauty that is reminiscent of David Lean at his best. There are camera shots in this film that will continue to haunt my memory for years. Three soldiers trek through a fog-filled landscape past a running brook as planes of war hovering in the sky overhead are seen only as a reflection in its waters, an awesome image like a great painting. But perhaps its greatest shot is a long Orson Wellesian single take, one tracking shot following the Battle of Dunkirk that lasts maybe 8 minutes that, in its emotional context, could reduce you to weeping.
Keira Knightly and James McAvoy are the lovers, and Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave portray the girl Briony through different stages of her life, in this heartbreaking and perfectly directed masterpiece that you will not easily forget.
I personally found this a spellbinding movie, though I understand why critics would object. The literary origins are retained through the artifice of a structure essential to conceal the twist in the plot. The downside is that the film is somewhat stagey and stylised, though the author conceals shocks brilliantly. You are somehow aware of the artifice throughout, the reasons for which become apparent at the end.
The country house scenes look very chocolate box, and could easily have been the start of a familiar romantic drama of the Camomile Lawn ilk, but all is thrown into disarray in rapid succession by the use of a taboo word, an act of witnessed passion, the violent rape of a young girl and a false accusation.
What follows is the unfolding drama and the story of the atonement, told in several chapters and centred around the character Briony at three ages - 13, 18 and 77. To give each credit, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave each give a sparkling turn and look precisely like an older version of their younger selves. Ronan in particular makes a magical job of competing for screen time with the likes of McAvoy, Knightley, Cumberbatch, Kennedy and Walter - and frankly, wins hands down most of the time!
The finest set piece is however Dunkirk. There is a single, intricate shot weaving in and out of the huge and complex array of activity on the beach as McAvoy's Robbie and his two companions try to find their way around. This is masterly film-making and worth the price of the DVD on its own.
The denouement is left in the hands of Vanessa Redgrave, and what a smashing job she makes of it too. Fragile yet playful, wistful yet leaving no doubt of the sincerity of her regrets, this is a fine performance.
McEwan seems blissfully happy with the translation of his novel, and why not? It seems from what people say to have stuck closely to the script in the capable hands of Christopher Hampton. The story is opened out but remains very true to its historical mores and morality. If anything, this makes it even more claustrophobic. Perhaps Hampton could have listened less to McEwan and followed more closely his own instincts to create a vivid big screen vision of McEwan's novel, it could have achieved the golden 5 stars, but even so - pretty darned good!
on 29 January 2011
Whew! I've just ordered yet another copy of this film for a friend who hasn't yet seen it, and thought I'd glance at the reviews while I was at it...half an hour later, I'm left with such a sense of how very different each one of us truly is, and how differently we view & experience movies! I suppose that we're all looking for different things from them.
I hadn't read the book before seeing this film way back in September '07. I've read it since, and despite the immaculate crafting and writing it leaves me cold like so many of Ian McEwan's novels (I keep trying but...sorry)
That I've seen the film 12 times now probably speaks volumes. I remember when I left the cinema after the first time, I felt raw...I couldn't bear anyone to talk to me for about an hour afterwards as I needed time to 'come down' from the emotion. I saw it 4 times on the big screen in total (this isn't unusual for me...if I love a film, I'll watch it several times to squeeze every drop from it - ergo, I've seen The King's Speech 4 times already!) and I have to be careful about watching it now as it can affect me quite strongly still - I just find the emotions, characters, acting so powerful & moving. I wasn't a fan of Keira Knightley before particularly, but after this, The Edge of Love and The Duchess I cannot wait to see her again. James McAvoy is & will continue to be one of our greatest new acting talents...I see only great things ahead for him. Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Benedict Cumberbatch - their body of work before & since 'Atonement' speaks volumes for them too.
Much has been said and debated in these reviews on the story, the cinematography, the accents, the period details...I'm not going to add to that.
Reviews are so, so personal. None are right or wrong, because they are all someone's opinion (although several have made me quite angry, and how 43 people have only awarded it one star is seriously beyond me!)
For what it's worth, Atonement will always be among my Top 5 Movies of All Time. For it's study of wasted youth, of thwarted love,of misinterpretation and misunderstanding, of a golden time that will never come again...the emotion of the cafe scene alone, nothing said, all encompassed in a rattling teaspoon and a completely naked, desperate look..
If you haven't already, just watch it. On a cold, gloomy day with a cup of something hot and an open mind & heart. If you're disappointed...well then, nothing can help you!
on 28 June 2010
It is a delightful film, well paced, with a beautiful background, strong emotions and remarquable actors. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I found it just as enjoyable as the book it was adapted from.
This sumptuous film follows the story of Robbie (McAvoy), who through the good offices of his employer has the qualities of a gentleman, and the love of Cecilia (Knightly), his employer's daughter. After a terrible crime is committed one night at the stately home where they all live, Robbie is falsely accused by Briony, the somewhat brattish younger sister of Cecilia. After this cataclysmic event all the main players start a search for some form of atonement for all their sins, real or imagined. Robbie is sent off to war in the British Expeditionary Force that was forced to retreat via Dunkirk, Cecilia disowns her family and Briony goes on to become a wartime nurse in London. There is a final twist, set many years after the main events that comes as quite a surprise, and shows just who was seeking Atonement and who achieved it.
This is a beautifully shot, excellently directed film, that builds nicely up to the final climax. The various elements, the country house setting, wartime London, the adventures of Robbie in the BEF and especially Dunkirk are well constructed. They might not be historically totally accurate, but they reflect what was in the mind and imagination of the person narrating the story, and accentuate the idea that it is a recounting of events through someone else's eyes. The actors are uniformly excellent, bringing their characters to life. The one exception is Keira Knightly, not an actress I have ever thought highly of, who is a bit wooden at times. McAvoy manages to supply enough intensity in their all important scenes together to cover up for her lack though.
In all a moving and excellently portrayed romance with a quality added layer of depth. A solid 4 stars.
There's no doubt, surely, that this was a beautifully crafted, styled and produced film with a musical score to match. All the actors played their parts very well, and generally speaking the finished product is a breath of fresh air compared to the tedium of most big-budget movies these days. A return to how they used to make them, if you like.
But I couldn't help thinking that the whole story pivots on the spontaneous actions (accusations, in fact) of a 13 year old girl. She deliberately points the finger of blame upon the wrong man - and if she had not, well, maybe this film would not have been made. And since the very title of the film is supposed to represent her efforts to atone for her sins, then it must be said that we see rather little of them, and I was only mildly moved by her confessions both as an 18 year old and as a much more elderly lady. There was something missing, I felt that the atonement lacked substance and I found myself caring little as to how she might make efforts to redeem herself because she was clearly not a character that many viewers will care for anyway. But there is a touching love story, built, it might be said, upon the foundations of lust rather than romance, and the efforts made by the director and cast to pull on our heartstrings during the lovers' separation (during WW2) were slightly at odds, I felt, with what I thought was a somewhat light and shallow relationship that had been painstakingly filmed earlier on. I haven't read the novel but I'll bet that in this crucial area it is a lot more convincing. The books always beat the films!
Dario Marianelli won the Oscar for original score for "Atonement" at the 80th Academy Awards in Los Angeles (Feb. 24 2008).
on 22 June 2013
Brilliant performances from Kiera Knightley, James McAvoy and Romola Garai as Knightley's jealous younger sister.
This is a great film, tragic yet entertaining, and offers a moral lesson on the destructive power of jealousy.
A must see for lovers of drama.
on 17 February 2013
An absolutely perfect adaptation, while Keira Knightley is often thought for beinpoor her performance in Atonement is faultless as are the rest of the casts. I'm a big fan of films that are stylistically and visually pretty and Atonement fulfills any aesthetic expectations. The story is one of how the misinterpretation of events through the eyes of a thirteen* year old girl determines the course of so many lives. In a sense Atonement is almost epic with it spanning many years, locations and characters. Do not put one the film looking for a light period drama however, the story is heart wrenching as well as beautiful you feel thoroughly drained by the end but i highly doubt you'll regret watching it and may well put yourself through it again and again saying as the film will always be saying 'come back to me'.
on 26 May 2013
Absolutely beautiful and finely crafted film. IMO Knightley has never been better.
James Mcavoy's performance was similarly excellent.
I watch a lot of horror films, but they are nothing. THIS is the film that actually distresses me for some reason. A great watch, and a film that plays on your mind for days afterwards.
on 18 June 2016
An average of 3 and a half stars for this from reviewers? Well, I cannot believe that.
Had heard of this of course, but since I am not a fan of 1) period drama, 2) films specifically set in wartime, and 3) Keira Knightley since I don't find her acting skills up to much - I hadn't got round to watching it, wasn't bothered. But then a friend of mine whose opinion I value highly told me it was one of his favourite films/books (yes a man that still finds time to read!!) and I was swayed to watch it.
Expecting some kind of classic schmaltzy love story I wasn't prepared for what hit me. The way that the story is told in the jumping around in time and the way that we are not clearly told which scenes are "real" and which are imagined, doesn't exactly confuse us but it does mean that until the final few minutes we are cleverly misled.
When the truth at last is revealed I have to say that it broke my heart, I think it is the most tragic an outcome that I can ever remember in a movie. The three main characters, in their own ways, have led the most tragic of lives.
Anyone that managed to rate this below 5 stars, I cannot comprehend how. A profoundly beautiful and tragic story.