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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.98%
Worth A Look37.08%
Average: 26.97%
Pretty Bad: 10.11%
Total Crap: 7.87%

10 reviews, 29 user ratings

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by William Goss

"Writing Wrongs"
4 stars

From its first frames – a close-up of a playhouse accompanied by the cadence of a typewriter – 'Atonement' lays the foundation for its feature-length demonstration on how the words and whims of a young girl may prove even more devastating than all the sticks and stones in the world.

Said playhouse belongs to the intelligent and impetuous thirteen-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan), and it is a replica of the very same estate in which she has just completed her first play, one she intends to perform that evening. Among the guests, she invites Robbie (James McAvoy), a housekeeper’s son who helps the family that has recently helped him achieve higher education alongside Briony’s older sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightley).

Briony pines for Robbie as he pines for Cecilia, and over the course of this particularly hot summer afternoon, the young girl gets the wrong impression from several incidents involving the discreet lovers and hastily proceeds to make false accusations against Robbie, resulting in his wrongful arrest. Five years later: Robbie goes to war, Cecilia gets to wait, and Briony (now played by Romola Garai) treats whatever wounds she can as a nurse while coming to terms the full consequences of her actions as the girl who cried “rape”.

For the first forty-five minutes, director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice) and writer Christopher Hampton adapt Ian McEwan’s acclaimed novel into a masterful manor-set melodrama of reckless passion and noble deeds misconstrued. Maintaining the recurring motif of windows and mirrors, even the narrative itself becomes a collection of reflections and refractions, a facet made all the more apparent by revelations to come and all the more effective by the crisp cutting of P&P editor Paul Tothill. The passion between McAvoy and Prejudice alum Knightley steadily simmers, peaking with a most heated encounter in the library, as Ronan, armed with puppy love and one deathly stare, goes about misinterpreting whatever she may.

However, for a story so concerned with matters of perspective, Atonement seems to lose some once the c-word, in its varied incarnations, sends poor Robbie seaward. Maybe sins just aren’t nearly as captivating in their dirt-under-nails aftermath as they are in the reflection of a silver spoon, but the scope never becomes quite as grand as it was intimate, a rift only reinforced by the appearance of a much-discussed tracking shot following Robbie amidst the evacuation of Dunkirk. Running nearly five minutes, the admittedly impressive technical prowess of “the Shot” inadvertently outshines its dramatic context, unlike the staggering tracking shots on display this time last year in Children of Men; it’s more awe than awww.

As the midsection shifts its focus towards Robbie, McAvoy displays a relatively restrained performance considering the hell he’s put through, and for her constant period wardrobe and moderately reduced role, Knightley displays some – dare I say – maturity to go with those oft-derided cheekbones of hers. Garai (Vanity Fair) carries on Briony’s bob haircut, trembling voice, and relative naďveté regarding the aftermath of her indictment. The story comes back around, fittingly enough, to Briony’s titular quest for redemption, shaking its seemingly prestige-magnet trappings of their dust along the way and working up to a strikingly post-modern conclusion, including a brief yet potent appearance by Vanessa Redgrave and a cameo by filmmaker Anthony Minghella, whose work bears a retroactively flattering comparison to that of the young maverick Wright.

In terms of sheer craft, Wright’s film is perpetually lush on the eyes and lovely to the ears, with respective credit going to Seamus McGarvey’s magnificent lensing and Dario Marianelli’s wonderfully ominous score. As a whole, whilst serving as both an undeniably sumptuous romance and a remarkably haunting tale of betrayal, 'Atonement' simply cannot stand to encompass all of this and World War II.

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originally posted: 12/25/07 11:26:12
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Vancouver International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/03/10 cook sad yet stunning film. great acting. two thumbs up 5 stars
11/04/09 me gorgeous, almost as great as the book 5 stars
8/02/09 Samantha Pruitt very sad and depressing, but the acting is good and it looks great. 4 stars
4/22/09 Jean W. I felt so alone hating this movie. Fuss and pretension. No substance. 2 stars
3/24/09 Anonymous. one of my favorite movies :] 5 stars
1/04/09 Hello i thought this film was beautiful and perfect. =] 5 stars
12/15/08 Pamela White surreal ending but film drama lacking 3 stars
10/17/08 Simon A tad too indulgent and dramatically concocted for me. does make you sad, thats something.. 3 stars
8/19/08 Phil M. Afficiando Just wish it were less contrived and manipulative; otherwise pretty good 3 stars
8/17/08 Clackity Clack An example of how to take a good story and ruin it. 1 stars
7/27/08 Caloline Erm ... Lola did not see and know who attacked her. This was pretty clear. 5 stars
6/15/08 Melissa Stinchcomb I expected this movie to be better than it was. It jumped around too much.Ended badly. 3 stars
6/12/08 Jayson What was the fuss about? 3 stars
5/03/08 Calllie If you like historical romance this is the movie for you. Touching story and performances 5 stars
4/01/08 Butt waaaay overrated. Highly contrived schoolboy script. Watch Casablanca instead. 2 stars
3/22/08 Rollie It's rare when a chamber drama can function this well as an art-house picture. Great movie 5 stars
2/14/08 Ming Great love story...I enjoy watching it...Too bad its a sad ending 5 stars
2/13/08 Xavier Roca-Ferrer Utter rubbish! 1 stars
2/11/08 styace very shallow character studies . not enough depth to make me feel how i should have . 1 stars
2/02/08 earthangel Really lousy movie. What a waste! I agree with Butterfly about Eat Keira Eat 1 stars
1/31/08 Alistair Heartbreakingly beautiful and hauting -it grows in impact for days after 5 stars
1/22/08 diane livingston painfully boring, pointless 1 stars
1/21/08 Julie Movie was terrible. First time I was tempted to walk out of a movie before the end. 1 stars
1/20/08 maryjane good but not the best. still made me cry though 4 stars
1/20/08 orpy Made me want to read the book 3 stars
1/18/08 Buttley I liked it, it wasn't Best Picture good but I can see why they'd nominate it. Eat Keira Eat 4 stars
12/27/07 jeanne You soul-less pigs - Stick to "Knocked Up" THIS is a brilliant film, soaring and wrenching. 5 stars
12/10/07 Ole Man Bourbon Overrated and forgettable. Story is contrived and often silly. Good acting. 2 stars
12/09/07 Keystra Williams OVERRRATED beyond belief! 1 stars
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  07-Dec-2007 (R)
  DVD: 18-Mar-2008



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