Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) gives Ian McEwan?s bestselling novel a sumptuous treatment for the screen that should come to be regarded as one of the defining films of the epic romantic drama. Indeed, everythin... more »g about this film stems from those three words: there is little here that is not epic, romantic, and dramatic, and Atonement is a film that masterfully expresses the overarching sense of adventure and emotion that such stories are meant to convey. In this instance, the story centers around the love story of highborn Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and housekeeper?s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy, in a star-making turn), in England shortly before World War II. Despite their class differences, they are powerfully attracted to each other, and just as their relationship begins Robbie is tragically forced away due to false accusations from Cecilia?s younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan). She has a crush on Robbie, too, and after reading a private letter he sent to Cecilia, and then witnessing the first expression of their mutual love but mistaking it for mistreatment, her resentment grows until it leads to her telling the lie that will send Robbie away. Soon World War II breaks out; Robbie enlists and is posted to France, Cecilia is a nurse in London, and Briony, now age 18 and aware of what she has done, tries to atone for her actions--but none of them will be able to get back what they have lost. Knightley and McAvoy are perfectly cast as the young star crossed lovers, and the young Ronan is particularly impressive, but it?s clear that the real star of this film is the director. Wright allows Atonement to revel in every moment of its story and each scene is compelling in its own way, but that now famous extended shot with Robbie on the beach at Dunkirk--filmed in one take and sure to be considered one of the great long tracking shots in film history--is the most memorable moment in this remarkable film. Atonement is an excellent example of what can happen when a great book meets great filmmaking. This is one that is not to be missed. --Daniel Vancini« less
Cinematic Splendor: ATONEMENT reaches the standard of the no
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 01/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those who have had the immense pleasure of reading Ian McEwan's ATONEMENT not once but several times, basking in not only the brilliant story/mystery but also in the inordinately beautiful language, rest assured that the film not only does the book justice in the transference to the screen, but in the hands of screenplay writer Christopher Hampton (we know that McEwan approved of the modifications as McEwan is one of the producers of the film) becomes even more clear in its realization of the complex plot and finds the visual beauty inherent in McEwan's prose. Joe Wright as director steers this story well, finding just the right amount of back and forth nonlinear development that formed the magic of McEwan's initial weaving.
The cast is uniformly superb. From the initial self-centered liar Briony Tallis (an impressive Saoirse Ronan) to the years' later sorrowfully guilty young nurse Briony (Romola Garai) to the 'epilogue' Briony of Vanessa Redgrave, the entire story is adroitly centered on this perpetrator of tragedy. But without the power of James McAvoy's falsely accused Robby Turner and Keira Knightley's tragic Cecilia Tallis the triad would not work. Even the smaller yet important roles assigned to Gina McGee, Brenda Blethyn, Jérémie Renier and countless others are played to perfection.
The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey captures not only the misty tranquility of 1935 pre-war England complete with creative use of luminous light sources as well as the raw brutality of the battlefields as England enters WW II. Dario Marianelli's music score (much of it played by pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet!) incorporates the superb Sir Thomas Beecham recording of 'La Boheme' with de los Angeles and Björling as incidental music to the typing of Robby's fateful note and then proceeds to incorporate the typewriter as if it were an instrument in his orchestrations.
Rarely has this viewer been so moved by a film (and perhaps that may have been related to just having heard a performance of Britten's WAR REQUIEM at the Los Angeles Philharmonic the previous night!): it is the perfect marriage of novel, cinematic realization and commitment on the part of all concerned in the creation of this superlative film. Highly Recommended on every level. Grady Harp, January 08"
H. Schneider | window seat | 01/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You will appreciate the movie more if you have read the novel. It is not a straightforward love story and definitely not a war epic. It is also not an English society story from the 30s, though it starts as such. A young girl with writing ambitions has her share of frustrations with family and with a failed crush. She sees things and misunderstands them involving her elder sister and her crush. This leads to false accusations, a wrong arrest, a life badly damaged, a love unfulfilled. The script handles the misperceptions of the girl perfectly, we get to see things in different versions. It is like time moving in loops. The middle part shows us the struggles of the two separated lovers towards getting back to each other in the middle of war. Dunkerk for him, London hospitals' nursing wards during the bombing of London for her. The younger sister repents and tries to make up, but is rejected. The final and shortest part is set in the recent past and has the former young girl explain what happened. You will find that the story makes perfect sense and is well constructed. The book was one of McEwan's better ones. The movie is on par with the novel: I have rarely seen a better adaptation of such a novel. The script deserves an Oscar, as does the cinematography. Some of the images are outstanding, e.g. the 3 soldiers walking dejectedly and lost through France or Flanders towards uncertainty and Dunkerk, and the we see a bomber fly over them, but we see it only as its reflection in the small canal. Look at the pictures! The cast is excellent and I disagree with those who think that KK is miscast, though her performance in Pride and Prejudice was more impressive. "
Despite good performances...left me cold and frustrated.
RMurray847 | Albuquerque, NM United States | 12/23/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I have never read ATONEMENT (although I own the book, it has somehow never made it to my nightstand), so I brought no preconceived expectations, except that the story was emotionally shattering and the ending is supposed to be a mindblower.
Based on the movie, neither expectation was even close to being met. This is the story of the Tallis family, whom we meet in 1935, at their country estate in England. Oldest daughter Cecilia (Keira Knightley) is secretly but chastely in love with young Robbie (James McAvoy), the son of the housekeeper, who apparently received a scholarship to a good school as a young man, and actually is anticipating going to medical school. These two have obviously known each other for years, and the heat between them is just starting to really get cranked up. This is unfortunate, because on this particular day, Cecilia's 13 year-old sister Briony seems to be making a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is an aspiring writer, and clearly thinks very highly of herself. While both sisters clearly are children of privilege and have a somewhat haughty attitude, young Briony is also a smart child whose self-esteem has probably been inflated to an inappropriate level.
So the heat turns up on the two young lovers, and Briony is there to not only read a note from Robbie to Cecilia, but to catch them in a couple of intimate acts. She misunderstands what she is reading and seeing, and this leads to disaster for Cecilia, and particularly for Robbie, who is accused of a horrible crime and sent to prison.
This covers nearly the first half of the film, and this part of the film is quite compelling. It's well-written, very well acted and oozes with atmosphere. We feel everyone simply languishing...bored and open to getting into trouble. It's dramatic stuff, and when the "act" ends with Robbie arrest, we anticipate an escalation of events and emotions that will take this film to the "shattering" levels.
And here's where the film falls nearly completely apart. Robbie is allowed into the army after 4 years in prison, and we see him at Dunkirk, the site of the historic evacuation of British troops from the mainland back to England. This daring and costly evacuation of hundreds of thousands of troops was a turning point in the early days of the war...if the evacuation had failed, Britain would have been routed, and Germany could have invaded the island. As a viewer, we are told none of this...we had just better know it. However, we are instead allowed to follow Robbie as he wanders through some fields, sees some horrific sights and generally looks like a guy who has been through hell. There is a scene on the beach that shows us the immensity of what the troops face. It is about 5 minutes long and is done in one long take. Technically, it is truly impressive...dramatically, it serves almost no purpose. It shows off for no reason.
Back in England, we see that Cecilia has become a head nurse and is estranged from her family. Briony, a nurse-in-training, continues to write and apparently is still eaten up by guilt at what she has caused...because now, of course, she believes that what she saw was mis-interpreted.
So we see some scenes of these three characters grappling with the ware. So is this a war movie? Why so much emphasis on the war when what we've been led to be interested in is these three characters...who play second fiddle to the war for nearly an hour. War scenes are certainly inherently interesting, but in ATONEMENT they should be supplementing our understanding of the characters not overwhelming them. By the time the brief third act starts, and all the surprises are revealed, we have pretty much stopped caring about the characters. And the surprises really aren't that surprising. The whole tone of the movie, and the way it has played around with time makes it a bit unsurprising when the truth is revealed. I won't say I saw it coming...but I also didn't really feel surprised. My wife felt the same.
Another problem is the character Briony. She is unlikeable throughout the film, at all ages. We aren't given a reason to sympathize with her, as she goes from arrogance to cowardice to regret. Big deal...none of those feelings compare to the damage she has wrought.
Everyone does a decent acting job, and technically the film is accomplished. But director Joe Wright doesn't handle the tone of the film well enough for us to accept all the shifts and leaps. And without knowing the book, I have to say that the script, particularly later in the game, is pedestrian and truly fails its characters. It's almost like the first half of the movie and the second half were written and directed by different people.
I can't say I cared much for the film. It's been nominated for a lot of awards, so clearly others will react to it with more affection. But it left me cold."
Melissa Niksic | Chicago, IL United States | 12/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Atonement" is a great example of an excellent book that was seamlessly adapted for the big screen.
Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, "Atonement" is the story of Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), a 13-year-old girl growing up in England in the year 1935. Briony is a very intense girl who is obsessed with storytelling. She witnesses a series of events between her older sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightley), and Robbie (James McAvoy), the son of the Tallis family's housekeeper. Briony things she understands what she sees, but she really doesn't. When a terrible crime is committed, Briony points the finger at the wrong man, sending an innocent person to prison and leaving Cecilia absolutely devastated.
This is an amazing story about love, truth, and justice. I have read McEwan's novel, and I was blown away by how well this story transferred to the screen. Everything in the film looked just the way I'd envisioned it when I read the book, which is a great testament to the filmmakers. I was very impressed by many of the performances in the film, especially those of the actors portraying young Briony, Cecilia, and Robbie. Ronan is a superb young actress whose portrayal of Briony is absolutely brilliant. Knightley seems to get better and better with every film she makes, and "Atonement" is no exception. She brings Cecilia to life on screen and makes her evolve from a selfish girl with a high-and-mighty attitude to a passionate woman who will do anything to be with the man she loves. The on-screen chemistry between Knightley and McAvoy is unbelievably intense (that library scene...wow!). I think Cecilia and Robbie will become one of cinema's most treasured couples, right up there with Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler.
I also need to mention the amazing cinematography in the film, as well as the music. There are many spectacular camera shots in the film, and dramatic uses of light to enhance certain scenes. The film's score integrates Briony's pounding typewriter keys into the music of the entire movie, which is seamless and incredible.
I only have two small gripes about this film. First of all, the ending of the movie slightly differed from the ending of the book, and I don't understand why it was changed. Secondly, I wasn't thrilled with Romola Garai's portrayal of Briony at age 18. She just wasn't as creepy and intense as Ronan, which was disappointing. However, it's possible that I'm being overly critical of Garai just because Ronan was so utterly fantastic in her role. It would be a lot for anyone to live up to.
Overall, "Atonement" absolutely dazzled me. I appreciate that the film is so true to the book in every way, and it was wonderful to see this amazing story come to life. This is a must-see that has "Academy Award winner" written all over it."
Sam | Seahurst, Washington | 09/21/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kiera Knightley and James McEvoy star, in Oscar winning performances, as two doomed lovers torn apart by lies and war. Director Joe Wright proves here that Pride and Prejudice was no fluke as Atonement is well crafted, superbly photographed and with an intelligent script makes this film a total success and triumph. Beginning in the summer of 1935 in an English Manor we are introduced to Briony, a precocious and over imaginative young writer. The film starts as she tries to understand the relationship between her older sister Cecilia (Knightley) and the housekeeper's son Robby (McEvoy). After a horrendous attack on their cousin, Briony's innocence, naivety and jealously leads her to put the blame on Robby who is immediately taken away to jail. Cut to 1940 and Robby, who got the chance to join the army, is now an evacuee in Dunkirk. Cecilia is a nurse in London as is Briony. What follows is Briony trying to come to terms with what she has done and trying to make peace with her sister. From the lush Countryside to the bleakness of the beaches of Dunkirk the photography is spellbinding. The direction is first rate with a stunning tracking shot of Dunkirk. Also the music and the use of the sound from the keys of the typewriter are used to perfect effect. The performances are first rate, notably Saoirse Ronan who plays the young Briony. While the film does lull a bit during the middle, the performances carry the viewer through it. A hugely enjoyable period/war drama, that's as ambitious as it is compassionate. A stunning achievement."