Monday 25 April 2022

Movie Review: Atonement (2007)

A drama and romance with a wartime backdrop, Atonement is a sweeping story of love, jealousy, and the jarring impacts of impulsive behaviour.

In England of 1935, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) is a precocious 13-year-old living with her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and their parents at a lavish country estate. An observant aspiring writer, Briony harbours a crush on the housekeeper's well-educated son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), but he is more interested in pursuing a romance with Cecilia. 

During one wild night, businessman Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch) is invited to dinner as a potential suitor for Cecilia, while Briony entertains visiting cousins. An explicit love note, an illicit sexual liaison, missing kids, a rape, and a life-changing false accusation follow in quick succession. 

By 1940 Robbie is part of Britain's defeated army in France. He pines for his lost love as he makes his way to the Dunkirk beaches awaiting evacuation. Back in England, Cecilia and Briony join the war effort and live with the consequences of that fateful night.

The Ian McEwan novel is adapted into a lavish yet brash production. Director Joe Wright dazzles with a full toolkit featuring stunning cinematography, razor sharp sound editing, breathtaking sets, a sly Christopher Hampton screenplay, and one slinky green dress. The outcome is a combustible mix of lust, envy, and war, with a cascading series of unfortunate events lighting the fuse.

The highlights are many. Keira Knightley in that dress earns a spot in the Hollywood wardrobe hall of fame. The sex-in-the-library scene is a steamy chapter of overflowing - and interrupted - passion. Robbie's tour of the Dunkirk beach, filmed in one continuous take lasting 5.5 minutes, is a bleak canvass of a defeated army. And Briony's interaction with a wounded French soldier exemplifies the pain inflicted by her actions, but also prods her on the road to redemption.

At the personal character level, Atonement toys with the crucial moments when fate intervenes to forever alter trajectories. The dinner night at the Tallis estate is audacious for the sheer quantity and quality of unexpected events, twists and turns. By the time the police car pulls away, most of the dinner attendees have had their destinies changed. At the grander cosmic scale, Atonement exposes war's massive appetite to consume lives. Robbie's story is known, but that Dunkirk beach is filled with thousands of individual experiences leading to the same time and place. Back home the rich get richer, while the emotionally wounded Cecilia and Briony face their own domestic hell.

The film's style is a triumph of dynamic artistry, with superlative images and sound. Wright deploys the rhythmic clacks of Briony's typewriter to build up tension, complementing visuals rich with symmetry, flashbacks and rewinds that fill gaps or replay scenes from a different perspective.

The cast bring the characters to life with plenty of verve, Saoirse Ronan emerging as the one unavoidable source of coiled tension. Her eyes shine with quiet anger, seething frustration, and rapid scheming, but she also never betrays the innocence of a 13 year old suddenly knocked off her centre by several carnal shocks. Atonement boasts a sleek exterior, but smolders within.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.