16 Atonement

7 Jun

“Atonement” is like the movie “Das Boot” in the way that you don’t want to watch it when you are depressed. It is not the feel good movie of the year, but it is a stunning piece of cinema and storytelling definitely worth being in a funk for the next two days after watching it.

The film is directed by Joe Wright, who was fairly new to the big screen when the movie came out (the only full length feature he  directed before this was an updated version of Pride & Prejudice) and is based on the Ian McEwan novel of the same name. The story revolves primarily around three characters. Briony (a 13-year-old writer from a wealthy British family), her older sister Cecilia, and Robbie the garden boy. Briony’s fantastic imagination and misunderstanding of the budding love between her sister gets the better of her and she frames Robbie for a crime he did not commit. Her lie starts a series of events that lead Cecilia and Robbie down a tragic path, which she only realizes when she is older. As it turns out, Briony writes a story describing the tragic events following the fateful lie, but with a different ending which she hopes can make up for her mistake.

I rarely pay too much attention to sound during a movie because if it is done right, it fits seamlessly into the film. However, it is clear to me why “Atonement” won the Oscar for Best Original Score. The soundtrack plays so well with the film, often mimicking the sound effects that are occurring in the film (i.e. the typewriter at the beginning of the movie or an umbrella being slammed on the hood of the car).

The cinematography is superb as well and paints both a rosy view of the past and bleak portrayal of the present, especially in the scene where Robbie walks on the war ravaged beach. The scene is done in one continuous shot and shows the horrors of war that he must now be exposed to all because of that one event in his past. As he takes it all in, the camera does a good job of overloading the visual to the audience, quickly moving from one thing to the next along the beach and sweeping around, so that the viewer feels overwhelmed just as Robbie does. It is a stroke of cinematographic genius, on par with the one continuous shot near the end of “Children of Men.”

The acting performances by the three leads, including the young Saoirse Ronan who plays the 13-year-old Briony, are very strong and carry a large part of what could have easily become a melodramatic movie. James McAvoy and Keira Knightley play Robbie and Cecilia with such conviction and passion that I am surprised that neither of them got nominated for an Oscar. However, Ronan did get nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category.

I know that usually my posts have a more jovial tone, but to do an article like that for this film would not do it justice. This is a film for those that appreciate the artistic aspects of film as opposed to those who seek solely the entertainment value. I highly recommend this film, but give a word of caution to make sure that you do not have an activity that will require a lot of energy or thought for the next couple of days because this film will be all you can think about.

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3 Responses to “16 Atonement”

  1. Julie Petersen June 7, 2010 at 3:12 pm #

    I remember when Jeremy was reading this novel. He told me he thought I’d like it, but when he spoke of the plot, I felt I couldn’t handle it. I accidently watched the last half of the movie, knowing the plotline already, and just found it haunting. Could not shake it, it was brilliantly done. Such a tragic tale. It definitely deserves to be on your list (even though I have no fondness for Keira Knightly!).

  2. Jeremy Petersen June 7, 2010 at 11:36 pm #

    Supposedly the movie altered the ending of the book somewhat, but either the gap between reading the book and watching the film was too long or I wasn’t engaged enough in the book, and I missed what the difference was. I think in many ways the “feel” of the film evoked by the cinematography and the score is better than the the content. Beautiful structure, but missing something at the center. That long tracking shot is fantastic, not just for what shows on screen but for the accompanying score in that section (mournful) contrasted with the diegetic chorus (“The beauty of the thy peace”). A beautiful five minutes or so.

    • Jeremy Petersen June 7, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

      Apparently I have to self-correct to prevent from being endlessly mocked… Frustrating that I can’t edit previous comments. Obviously, I only meant “thy peace,” not “the thy peace.” Now you’ve got me all self-conscious…

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