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  Publicity Stills of
(Courtesy from UIP)

Genre: Drama/Romance
Director: Joe Wright
Cast : Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave, Brenda Blethyn, Juno Temple
RunTime: 2 hrs 10 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene)
Official Website: www.atonementthemovie.co.uk


Opening Day: 24 January 2008


On the hottest day of the summer of 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her older sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching Cecilia is their housekeeper's son Robbie Turner, a childhood friend who, along with Briony's sister, has recently graduated from Cambridge. By the end of that day the lives of all three will have been changed forever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had never before dared to approach and will have become victims of the younger girl's scheming imagination, and Briony will have committed a dreadful crime, the guilt for which will colour her entire life.

Movie Review:

Atonement, a story of misunderstandings and misappropriations, is a
sumptuously filmed period drama reminiscent of old Merchant Ivory productions. At its heart, it is a typically restrained English drama, all meaningful glances and smouldering looks. The staging feels like a play, and is stylized to the point of being dream-like.

Atonement is also a movie in two parts, with the former taking place on the hottest day of the year in 1935. With everything lit in a sort of medium glow sunlight, you can almost feel the heat radiating off the screen. Unfortunately, the forced chemistry between James McAvoy and Keira Knightley as the star-crossed lovers Robbie and Cecilia makes for insufficient heat, though they certainly look good together. Made up like old-time movie stars, just putting them together in costume recalls a bygone era. But McAvoy, in a standout performance, far outshines Knightley, who seems to have trouble deciding what makes for a posh accent. It is quite an indictment that the accent of McAvoy, who is a Scot, sounds far more polished than hers.

Ultimately, the couple become victims of Cecilia’s sister, the poor, precocious Briony (newcomer Saoirse Ronan), who has the habit of walking into situations at the worst possible moment. While she claims to have “the clarity of passion”, her imaginary world becomes the catalyst for a tragic turn of events. Given that Atonement is adapted from Ian McEwan’s novel, and Briony herself is an aspiring writer, it could aptly be said that the movie is all about words. The initial lack of words between Robbie and Cecilia, the words of the letter that Robbie mistakenly gives to her and most tragically, the damning words of the false accusation that Briony makes against Robbie (for a terrible crime whose name is never even spoken), destined to cast a shadow over his good name forever. And in the final revelation, we see just how much words mean to the movie.

And so we come to the second part of the film, with its sudden transition to WWII. The change is deliberately jarring, echoing the manner in which Cecilia and Robbie’s romance is so abruptly shattered. Cecilia’s last words to Robbie before he goes off to war become a constant refrain: “I love you. Come back to me”. It’s appropriate then that Robbie should find himself at Dunkirk, scene of what is probably the most humiliating British military retreat ever. Director Joe Wright manages a visual tour de force in the stunning scenes at the beaches of Dunkirk, that must be seen to be believed. In particular, the number of extras and props involved in one long, continous tracking shot must have taken up all of Wright’s ingenuity and innovation. Even at Dunkirk, Robbie’s promise to Cecilia haunts the narrative, for it is all the couple have left: “I will find you, love you, marry you and live without shame.”

We also flit back and forth to the hospital with a grown-up Briony (Romolo Garai), who has volunteered as a nurse in what becomes her lifelong attempt at atonement. Her scenes with wounded and dying soldiers are especially harrowing, with a heartbreaking scene between her and a dying French soldier a standout. Even there, she never stops writing, and the clackety-clack of Briony’s typewriter becomes the basis for an inspired soundtrack. It is masterfully used to convey urgency and foreboding throughout the film, and almost gives the impression of a story being made up on the spot. In the end, Robbie commands Briony to write a truthful account of what happened that day in 1935, with “no rhymes, no embellishments, no adjectives”. And while Briony’s repentance is never quite properly explained, the final significance of Robbie’s words become clear at the end.

Movie Rating:

(Definitely worthy of the Oscar buzz. A slow burn movie, but ultimately rewarding)

Review by Nicholas Yong


. Silk (2007)

. The Last King of Scotland (2006)

. Pride & Prejudice (2005)

. The Notebook (2004)

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