"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.
on January 5, 2008
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.
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
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.
on March 6, 2008
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.
on October 7, 2008
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.
on March 21, 2011
When I read the other reviews for this film I thought that this would be a great romantic epic to watch. The movie is great - as in its very well done on every level, from the casting to the cinematogray to the effective use of time jumps ie: Citizen Kane.
However the story is a heavy heartbreaking tragedy. One in where the viewer is supposed to believe that Briony one of the main characters is 'atoning' for a lie that she told in her youth, and only after the passage of a very long life FINALLY confesses to. This is where I checked out of this terriby down story.
Briony was a self-important brat who never grew up and continually made excuses for not telling the truth. I loved her speech when she says that the truth no longer mattered. The truth always matter - so Briony, as the author of 21 novels, why write the book? The fact that she waited until everyone who would have formed an opinion about her had died, no doubt made this selfish act feel right and 'truthful' to an opportunistic/capitalistic liar.
Briony's lie tragically altered the life of all those close to her. This character was completely toxic and incapable of antonement no matter how many bed pans she washed.
It is 1935, and wealthy Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightly) loves Robbie (James McAvoy), the housekeeper's son. A scandalous accusation against him by Cecilia's little sister separates the two lovers. And then, the War begins.
I really wanted to like this movie. I'd heard it was a grand love story played out against the agonizing backdrop of World War II. Well, it left me cold. I didn't feel anything for Cecilia or her sister (they both seemed pretty shallow and spoiled to me), and although James McAvoy is handsome and sincere, I didn't know enough about Robbie to care about him. The movie's first third is shown in quick scenes with dialogue that wasn't always easy to understand. It was rather perfunctory and, with no backstory to show how this love developed or what they are like as people, I didn't connect with anyone.
The manor house set is lovely, and the war scenes are well-done and suitably grizzly, but the story just didn't pull me in. I was disappointed.
on June 30, 2008
Since I started seeing the trailers of this movie i was curious about the movie. When it came out on DVD i didn't by it or rent it, but one of my friends bought it and i borrowed it from them and surprised that i enjoyed a love story, especially since I'm a guy, but the heart ache and not ending with a happy ending, plus the war scenes being brutally honest pry made it that much better for me, but i was amazed that i was feeling for the characters, and wishing that the two lovers would be together. A movie not for everyone but i loved it that i had to buy the book to see how closely they got the movie, i defiantly recommend if your a guy and your girlfriend wants to watch a love story, you the guy will get something out of it too.
on June 25, 2008
"Atonement" directed by Joe Wright and based off of the novel "Atonement" by Ian Mcewan.
England, 1935; 13 year old Briony Tallis busies herself and her visiting cousins by attempting to put together a play she has written. Things fall apart and she decides to visit with her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightly) and the family's employee and friend Robbie Turner (James Mcavoy). With her visit over she returns inside. Through her window Briony views some interaction between Cecilia and Robbie. From her perspective the interaction seem tense and aggressive on Robbie's part. Another honest mistake on Robbie's part later that day coupled with a moment shared between Cecilia and Robbie not intended for others to see leaves Briony with the wrong impression and the results are catastrophic...
My feelings on "Atonement" are mixed. On the one hand you have spectacular acting, great cinematography and directing giving you a beautiful movie to look at and on the other you have a story that comes across somewhat mish mashed lending to a feeling of meandering. The end of the movie wraps it all up and almost saves it but I was still left feeling like the end wasn't worth the journey there.
The Good: As stated this was a great looking movie. The location selection, the directing and the cinematography are all spectacular. The acting was great all around. Keira Knightly on screen is also always a positive for me.
The Bad: I had trouble getting behind how the story unfolded. I am ok with non-linear story lines but "Atonement" was broken up and re-hashed in a way that just didn't work for me. First you get one perspective then another, then it jumps forward 13 weeks, then back 9 to someone else's perspective. I was just left wondering the whole time where it was going and what it was all about. It felt like a train wreck all the way up to the end which did help Atonement to save some face.
Overall: A great looking picture that fell short in delivery. Don't avoid Atonement but don't rush to see it either.