Reel Rewind – Atonement

Atonement (MA)

Directed by: Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan

Two stars

Review by Julian Wright

Keira Knightley has spent most of her short career in period costumes. The starlet shot to fame in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and gained a best actress academy award nomination for her appearance in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. This Christmas, she slips into 1930s attire for the Golden Globe nominated film Atonement, a love story filled with tragedy and scandal.

In England in 1935, 13-year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) has an over-active imagination. While scripting a play to perform for her brother upon his return home to the grand family mansion, the girl witnesses her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) with Robbie (James McAvoy), the caretaker’s son.

Later, Briony reads a sexually graphic letter Robbie wrote to Cecilia and then catches them in the act of making love. Briony is convinced Robbie is a sex maniac. When Briony witnesses her cousin being attacked in a field that night and sees a man flee, she is convinced it was Robbie who committed the crime.  Briony’s testimony puts Robbie in jail and the two lovebirds are separated.

During World War II, Cecilia and Robbie are able to meet briefly and rekindle their passionate affair. Briony is racked with guilt about what she had done and tries to redeem herself by training as a nurse to help care for the soldiers of the war.

This love story has plenty of potential and strives to be as grand as Gone With The Wind. Unfortunately it doesn’t even reach the heights of the Nicole Kidman film Cold Mountain, which uses similar plot devices.

The tone of the film is all over the place. It begins with comical misunderstandings, then jumps back and forth in time more often than Marty McFly in the Back to the Future series and touches on the horrific conditions of the wartime battlegrounds. There is so much scandal in the story and yet one would be forgiven for taking a nap during the proceedings.

Director Joe Wright gives us some breathtaking imagery, capturing some splendid scenery and composition. He does not succeed in sweeping the audience up and creating a convincing ride. The performances are more melodramatic than an episode of Passions and it detracts from the story.

The score is genius, incorporating the frantic click of Briony’s typewriter to create a sense of suspense, urgency and drama. It is deserving of its Golden Globe nomination. The ending is both touching and tragic but having been faced with such a struggle to reach that point, it is difficult to care.

As published in Examiner Newspapers, 2007.

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