PopcornReel.com Movie Review: “Atonement”
By Omar P.L. Moore/December 7, 2007
“Atonement”, which opened today in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles –
sixty-six years after the attack on Pearl Harbor – marks a solid second film
from director Joe Wright, whose immense confidence shows as he tackles the scope
of a huge canvas, in a film based on Ian McEwan’s award-winning novel and
adapted for the big screen by Christopher Hampton. The film’s strength is in
its evocation of British class distinctions and subtleties and in its execution
of the dimensions of innocence in the story, and how that particular quality in
several of the film's figures becomes a central and distinct character that is
violator or is violated. The visual power of “Atonement” (cinematography by
Seamus McGarvey) is amazing,
with stupendous camerawork particularly in two moments, one in a fading
close-up of a lead character during World War Two in Northern France, the other
in a spectacular, even moving, unbroken four-minute tracking-shot.
Storytelling is the essence of “Atonement”, and not unlike moments in last year’s “Notes On A Scandal”, it all depends on who is telling the story at any given time. In the present film’s case, it’s Briony Tallis (Saorise Ronan) a girl of thirteen who sees some hanky panky between one Robbie (James McAvoy) a member of the servant class and her own sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley). Thirteen-year-olds often see things they aren’t supposed to, and keeping a secret is not necessarily in their vocabulary. Briony however, looks for love and acceptance but makes decisions that will make things a lot harder during wartime, especially for some of the war’s unintended victims.
While “Atonement” focuses on the tensions between the weak and the strong, the
rich and the poor, the loving and the loveless, Mr. Hampton’s script also
depicts longing and desperation in ways that sneak up on the audience,
especially so in the second half of the film, which is the far stronger and
compelling half. “Atonement”, which is nearly always shot from a third person’s
perspective, features James McAvoy at his best as Robbie, a man caught in a web of
scandal, an inanimate man trapped in animated and fanciful circumstances. Mr.
McAvoy displays a self-containment throughout that is powerful. His eyes burn
with contempt, but also with the fire of love that could set war enemy villages
alight. Ms. Knightley takes on Cecilia and puts on the airs of a flighty
debutante-type whose desires flicker and dart in only one direction. Cecilia knows
her younger sister well, and the journey to the end of “Atonement” takes several
"Atonement", on its technical merits (cinematography and production design) deserves serious consideration this awards season.
"Atonement" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of
America for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality. The film's
duration is two hours and ten minutes.
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