December 13, 2007

REVIEW: Atonement (B)

Background: Not being an avid reader of historical romance novels, I missed the mania in 2001 for British author Ian McEwan's Atonement. The book's success no doubt paved the way for Joe Wright's (Pride and Prejudice) adaptation starring Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice, Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) and James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland; TCON: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe). Also look for Benedict Cumberpatch and Romola Garai from Amazing Grace. The screenplay was adapted by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), who is almost certain to receive an Oscar nomination. In fact, look for Atonement to receive 10 or more nominations (including Best Picture) - it's been anticipated for over a year and is typical Oscar fare (see: The English Patient, with which it is already being compared).

Synopsis: On a rural estate in England in the summer of 1935, post-grads Cecilia Tallis (Knightley) and Robbie Turner (McAvoy) are spending the hot days flirting, fighting, and fooling around with each other, to the concern and confusion of Cecilia's 13 year-old sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan). One fateful night Cecilia witnesses the rape of her teenage cousin, and in a moment of jealousy and uncertainty, she implicates Robbie as the rapist, who is immediately sent away to prison and eventually the war abroad. His relationship with Cecilia is torn apart, and both lovers live in unbearable misery. As the war drags on, Briony succumbs to the guilt of her actions and attempts to make amends with Cecilia and Robbie, who are at this point truly suffering from the distance between them. Flash forward 50 years, and Briony is now a bestselling author. In her final book she tells the complete story of what happened to Cecilia and Robbie, and how she desired to atone for her sin.

I Loved:
+ The cinematography - sweeping shots, great angles, and an impressive long take on the beach.
+ The ending, which totally surprised me.

I Liked:
+ The musical score, except for the times when it was ruined by maniacal typewriter effects.
+ The casting of James McAvoy and Keira Knightley - they had believable chemistry.

I Disliked:
- Some dragging scenes that could have used more editing.
- Romola Garai's stilted performance as the 18 year-old Briony.

I Hated:
- Nothing, with the exception of the typewriter sounds here and there.

Writing - 9
Acting - 9
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 3

Total: 43/50= 86% = B

Last Word: Although the ending adds a significant twist to the plot, there are no real surprises with what kind of movie Atonement is. Fans of the classic British period pieces will enjoy it, along with tragic romantics. I don't really consider myself either of those, but I was really impressed with the cinematography, acting, and finale. I don't know that Atonement will be any more memorable than its peers (The English Patient, A Very Long Engagement), though its actors and director (Wright is 35) are young enough that the movie will likely go down as a contemporary classic, whether it wins Oscar or not. I'm excited to continue seeing James McAvoy get meaty roles, and I'd like to see Keira Knightley (who is disconcertingly thin) take more of these roles instead of the silly Pirates of the Caribbean fare. Regarding Ian McEwan - eh, I don't know that I have any new interest in epic romance novels. Atonement actually seemed pretty unoriginal until the ending, but I guess I can't complain about a lack of story depth if I don't read the book.

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