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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely mesmerizing
"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...
Published on December 18, 2007 by Melissa Niksic

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47 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Despite good performances...left me cold and frustrated.
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...
Published on December 23, 2007 by RMurray847


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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Completely mesmerizing, December 18, 2007
By 
Melissa Niksic (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
"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.
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87 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgiven, January 5, 2008
By 
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.
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152 of 185 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cinematic Splendor: ATONEMENT reaches the standard of the novel, January 26, 2008
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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
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Atoning, March 6, 2008
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Atonement tells the story of a preteen's (Briony) inflated sense of self and the destruction that her rightousness causes for Robbie Turner and her sister Cecilia Tallis. She lacks remorse in telling her lie. Her arrogance is likely a result of her mother's overindulgence and being treated as if she were a talented adult in a child's body. The book implies that at times Briony was ignored by her mother, when she (Mrs. Tallis) was having her migraine attacks, leaving Briony to her own devices. The book tells of her father, Mr. Tallis, being absent frequently due to having a mistress. Mrs. Tallis knows this though it is never spoken of. She is relieved to no longer have to meet the demands of her husband. The implied sexual conflict in Mrs. Tallis, was likely to be agitated when she reads Robbie's letter to Cee and by the library scene Briony reports to her as evidence of Robbie's crimes. (This letter; musings by Robbie about Cee and never meant to be read by anyone. He accidentally has the wrong letter delivered by Briony to Cecilia.)

None of the 3 actors playing Briony made her likable to me. The elderly Briony played by Redgrave, who reveals whether she did or did not confess her lie, left me cold. Were we really supposed to pity her suffering? What penalty did she pay; becoming a nurse for a short time, then moving on to become famous as a successful writer? In the book, she is attending a celebration of her life as an accomplished writer, in the old Tallis home. In that respect, the movie should have been titled "No Atonement"!

McEwan is delivering a subtle but powerful message when the elderly Briony states she played God in her book, by giving Robbie and Cee the happiness they never had in life. This is the reiteration of Briony's basic character, this playing God, causing events to come to pass, though McEwan seems to try to portray Bri as making amends in her own way and restating the lie she told as a 'misunderstanding'. This is also implied in the mother's character in the book, when her reasons are explained for pushing to condemn/prosecute Robbie. So we have Mr. Tallis who stays in town to be with his mistress while neglecting his family, Mrs. Tallis resenting Robbie's rise and his placement as 'first' at Oxford, above her own son Leon (Cecilia's brother), who is portrayed as unmotivated to advance in life, though a benign enough character. Mrs. Tallis also resents the resources and affection her husband has shown towards Robbie, who embodies the work ethic his own son seems to lack. The only empathetic and warm characters/relationships in the book are between Cecilia and Leon, Robbie and Ceceila, and Robbie and his mother. The movie replaced the above explanations for the characters' behaviors with war scenes, to what end I cannot fathom.

The lengthy war scenes, while done beautifully and poignantly, were too long. We are supposed to figure out what war event was occurring. One had to be hyperattentive to get the lines/word articulations. This is too much work to have to do just to watch a movie. You never feel you are getting half of the story between the characters and not only are you not getting any history in the movie, but you aren't able to get the lines.

The choppy, fast delivery of the words in the lines, while reminiscent of old black and white films, hide the impact of the script, whether a good script or not, as well as explanations Cecilia is giving to Robbie in the library and other scenes. Since the movie is in color using modern camera technology, and the music is played using contemporary equipment, why not bring the lines into the 2000s as well? It was a strain to try to decipher what they were saying. One might have just taken away the lines in these instances since intense concentration had to be present to get the words.

One thing that I am not seeing in most reviews is the distinction between Briony knowing the truth or misinterpreting what she saw. She admits later in the film that she knows who committed the crime. So that changes the interpretation of her misinterpreting what she saw. She did misinterpret the fountain and library incidents due to her young age and immaturity, but she did not misinterpret seeing who committed the crime she blamed on Robbie. She deliberately lied because of her rage at Robbie, for his rebuff of her when she told him she loved him. How bold of a 12 year old to risk death by jumping in a river so Robbie can save her and so she can tell him she loves him. Young Briony's ire is omnipresent in the first half of the movie.

Another thing annoying about the screenplay is the slight twisting of Robbie and Cecilia's lines and roles from the book. It does not detract from the plot particularly, but serves no purpose. Why put the book lines of Robbie, into Cecilia's mouth and vice versa? In the book, Robbie is not reluctant at all to meet Cecilia in the restaurant, nor to continue their romance, and it is he who is waiting on her in the restaurant scene in the book. I can only assume that the reluctance of Robbie to enter the restaurant in the movie, and for Cecilia to have to convince him to 'come back' to her, was to show off McAvoy's talent for portraying anguish.

The impression the movie gave that Robbie was obsessing about Cecilia, is not present in the book at all. He is portrayed as a very confident character, who has been well educated at Oxford with Marxist ideology and with no hesitancy to pursue Cecilia once he realizes his feelings, even though he is only the housekeeper's son and gardener. (And how humorous for McEwan to describe Cecilia's first sexual experience, from a male perspective, which sounded unlike any female description of a virginal sexual experience I have ever heard.)

In spite of all of the above, McAvoy and Knightley's acting was the highlight of the movie for me; overcoming the line delivery requested of them. I never appreciated Knightley's depth before, and thought her performance was excellent. What can one say about McAvoy? Having seen him for the first time in Children of Dune, then in Narnia, and Last King of Scottland, he is extremely gifted and convincing as an actor. Many actors seem themselves in every movie they are in, but McAvoy seems to be every different character he plays in his movies, which is rare. If I did not recognize his face, I would never know he was the same person as in Penelope or Becoming Jane. His ability to express emotion and its subtleties is amazing.

The scenery was beautiful and dramatic, though the lengthy war scenes were almost as depressing as the fate of the characters. I wanted more of the plot between the main characters but was given more and more war trauma. Too much evoking of sad emotions. It was almost an ordeal to watch this movie. As the book did, I felt the movie focused way too much on extraneous events and not enough on character development. However, I will buy the DVD because I liked the performances of the main characters that much. The library scene, though showing practically nothing at all, was more sensual than had more been shown. The fountain scene was almost nonverbal on McAvoy/Robbie's part. His portrayal of emotion from helpfully annoying, to playful regret at breaking the vase, to concern when Cecilia jumped in the water, to surprise turning into attraction and desire when she emerged from the water scantily clad, then turning into his embarassment and decorum, all within a minute or two, was quite an accomplishment. Knightley was very good in this scene as well. Her body language was congruent to the message of her character including showing her confustion and anger at her lack of control of her behavior in Robbie's presence.

I thought about the movie for a long time after seeing it and it left a mark on me, which made it worth enduring negatives in scripting and the too lengthy war scenes.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars unintended catastrophe, October 7, 2008
By 
Daniel B. Clendenin (www.journeywithjesus.net) - See all my reviews
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This film opens in 1935 at a spectacular estate in the English countryside, takes us to the bloody beaches of Dunkirk, and then ends in a television studio sixty years later. The well-to-do Cecilia falls in love with Robbie, the son of the housekeeper. Thanks to Cecilia's father, Robbie attended Cambridge and has plans for medical school. Cecilia's younger sister, Briony, also had a crush on Robbie, so when she watches a scene at the estate fountain, reads a love note never meant for anyone's eyes, and interrupts an embrace in the library that would shock any thirteen-year-old, she reacts in fear. Briony tells a lie about a family tragedy, the consequences of which are catastrophic for everyone, especially for her own mind and soul. Briony spends her entire life seeking atonement, and at the end of the film we're not sure that she has convinced herself, much less the audience. Atonement earned seven Academy Award nominations.
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47 of 60 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Despite good performances...left me cold and frustrated., December 23, 2007
By 
RMurray847 (Albuquerque, NM United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A BITTERSWEET ROMANCE, MAGNIFICENTLY MADE, September 9, 2008
By 
Robert Blenheim (Daytona Beach, Florida) - See all my reviews
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More than one of the great romantic films of all time, "Atonement" is a pure masterpiece utilizing a three-act structure spanning several decades that begins in an English manor house before World War II and proceeds through the war and after.

The main character is a 13-year-old fledgling writer, Briony, whose imaginative sensibilities congeal with her infatuation with a man who loves her older sister to result in dire consequences she only later understands. From the dramatic and passionate momentum of its early sequences underscored by a music score utilizing a typewriter in its orchestration, it brilliantly employs both child and adult points of view to relate the story of a great romance that is disrupted from the events that occur.

If the story and screenplay seem to have "Doctor Zhivago" characteristics, Joe Wright's magnificent and sensual direction brings out all the passion and tragedy with a beauty that is reminiscent of David Lean at his best. There are camera shots in this film that will continue to haunt my memory for years. Three soldiers trek through a fog-filled landscape past a running brook as planes of war hovering in the sky overhead are seen only as a reflection in its waters, an awesome image like a great painting. But perhaps its greatest shot is a long Orson Wellesian single take, one tracking shot following the Battle of Dunkirk that lasts maybe 8 minutes that, in its emotional context, could reduce you to weeping.

Keira Knightly and James McAvoy are the lovers, and Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave portray the girl Briony through different stages of her life, in this heartbreaking and perfectly directed masterpiece that you will not easily forget.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very special film, December 25, 2009
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This review is from: Atonement [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
I agree with Jean, and will certainly be buying this on Blu-ray when it comes out. The movie was original, surprising (both in its plot and its unusual structure) and moving. It's worth seeing it just for the 5 1/2 minute steadicam shot halfway through the movie on the beach at Dunkirk. I just learned from an interview with the screenwriter that it was shot that way for budgetary reasons, but it's a superb example of a happy "accident" becoming cinematic art. Performances and technical credits are all top notch. See it!
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A literary gem adapted into a masterpiece of a film. Fantastic!, October 19, 2008
Several years ago I read this book. Loved it!

I never thought it would adapt well to the screen though. It seemed too dreamy with too many scenes that might or just might not have happened. I was wrong. This film is as much a masterpiece as the book and was nominated for several Academy awards. Perhaps it's because Ian McEwan, the author, who I consider to be a literary genius, had a role in adapting his book to the screen. Perhaps it's because the details of the setting are so scrupulously adhered to. And perhaps it's because the acting throughout is just so darn good. Put together this film is an absolute gem.

The film opens in an upscale house in the English countryside in 1935. It seems an idyllic life, especially through the eyes of 13-year old Briony Tallis who is writing a play to be performed by her young cousins for the entertainment of her family. Her older sister, Cecilia, is in love with Robbie, the son of the cook, who has been provided an education by her father and loves Cecilia in return. But trouble ensues because of a misunderstanding based on the young Briony's active imagination.

Fast forward to 1940. England is now at War, Robbie has spent five years in jail and is now in the British army. He and Cecilia are still in love and Briony is eighteen years old and a nurse in a British hospital. The war is awful. We see Robbie experiencing its horrors. He is wounded and suffering as he waits nine days for evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk. At this time, Briony has a change of heart, realizes that she has caused pain to her family because of her earlier lies, and seeks out her sister who she hasn't seen for the past few years.

It is only later, after a lifetime, that we find out that this visit to her sister is not quite what it seemed. This occurs when the elderly Briony gives up the secrets that bind this story together. Wow! What an impact!

The setting and cinematography are exceptional and the acting is outstanding. Kiera Knightly is cast as Cecilia and James Turner as Robbie. Briony is played by three different actors at different ages - Saaorise Ronan at 13, Ramola Garai at 18, and Vanessa Regrave as a the elderly woman.

This is a fine, complex and nuanced film. A sophisticated audience will love it. Highly recommended.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Portrait of an Artist, February 25, 2008
By 
ATONEMENT comes closer than any other film to explain a portrait of an artist. Or, in other words, what it is really like to be in the mind of a writer. Throughout ATONEMENT Briony exemplifies the role of a writer: she enjoys feeling like God (or believing that she is better than other people) and being in control of her characters--both in her fictional and "real" world. For example, she believes she is better than other people by talking down to them (her cousin, Lola, and the twins), not respecting other people's privacy (she reads Robbie's letter that is meant for Cecilia), and lying about a crime that has grave consequences for other people (Robbie, Cecilia and herself). She enjoys being in control by tricking Robbie into saving her when she really wasn't drowning, and preventing Robbie and Cecilia being together since she can't have Robbie for herself. She even changes the ending of the Robbie and Cecilia story to suit her needs of a novelist. In some ways, ATONEMENT is very much like a Woody Allen movie--especially THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, and MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY. There's a scene in ATONEMENT where Robbie is in an abandoned movie theater in Dunkirk. By having him stand in front of a movie screen, it is suggested that art imitates life and life imitates art and who can tell the difference between the two. This scene is very similar to a scene in MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY, which makes sense because Briony has difficulty separating her fictional world from her "real" world. She seems to think she can control the lives of the people around her as she does with the characters in her stories. I realize that the marketing department is trying to present ATONEMENT as a love story between Robbie and Cecilia. But I actually think the main character is Briony--both in the movie and book. ATONEMENT is one of the best movie adaptations--much better than THE ENGLISH PATIENT because it focuses on the main concept of the story and not on some sappy love story. It is also one of the best movies of the year. Of the five films nominated for Best Picture, the Academy Award should have gone to ATONEMENT. Highly recommended.
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Atonement [Blu-ray]
Atonement [Blu-ray] by Joe Wright (Blu-ray - 2010)
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