Atonement just won the Golden Globe for best drama. Good for it. I can honestly say it deserved it. However, I can also honestly say it isn’t a film I need to see again any time soon.
Based on the beautifully written novel of the same name by Ian McEwan, Atonement hinges upon three key misunderstandings on the part of young, confused, would-be writer Briony Tallis (played so well it’s creepy by Saoirse Ronan). Her confused perception (dramatization) of reality threatens to break apart her older sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightly) and the family’s groundskeeper, Robbie (James McAvoy). The audience is forced to ask a question. Is it truly possible to atone for a sin? Is regret enough? Toss in a bar tending chocolate magnate (“here, try my choc-tail”), a red-haired Lolita, the evacuation at Dunkirk during WWII, and the mother of all plot twists, and you’ve got yourself a movie.
I hate to pigeon-hole Ms. Knightly into typecasting, but she was born to play pre-war, headstrong, rich British women. It blows me away that she is only 22 years old. I have significantly less of a crush on James McAvoy, but I must say the man has amazing eyes and can act.
Each actor does a superb job in their role and the film is so well done and well written that I can’t figure out why I don’t like it. I had minor problems following the timeline of the movie, and director Joe Wright chose to shoot with a handheld camera at odd times, but those are only minor quibbles. Also, the audience (and I) laughed at moment’s I’m not sure were supposed to be funny (“choc-tail” being one of them). The movie also feels a tad long, clocking in at 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Quibbles aside, Atonement is a very well-put-together piece of work. In fact, it feels very Shakespearean. Briony’s writing ambition translates into a motif (from the opening credits to the subtitles telling us the scene and date to the very font used in the movie’s poster above) that I only appreciate now in retrospect. The confusing timeline is probably a necessity as we see the pivotal events between Cecilia and Robbie from two points of view. They also make more sense when we hit the plot twist.
Ah, the plot twist. My gut tells me this is the movie’s weakness. If not the twist itself, then the way it is handled. From what I’ve been told of the way it is addressed in the book (I’m only one third of the way through it myself), it works much better there. It isn’t quite as gimmicky as an M. Night Shamma–lamma-ding-dong movie, but the twist near the end hit me just as hard as learning Bruce Willis was a ghost in The Sixth Sense. Instead of being blown away, however, I was pissed off. “What the hell?” were my exact words, I believe. It makes it a far better movie from a literary sense, yeah, I get it. Still. What the hell?