Thursday, January 12, 2017

Atonement Movie Review

Atonement (2007) 
Rent Atonement on Amazon Video
Written by: Ian McEwan (novel), Christopher Hampton (screenplay)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Starring: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave, Juno Temple, Brenda Blethyn, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alfie Allen,
Rated: R

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

Thirteen year Briony changes the course of several lives when she falsely accuses the son of her family's servant and her sister's lover of rape.

This is one of those movies that does everything right. It's an incredible movie, everything one should be. It tells a sweeping story that makes you feel something, while being completely engrossing and deserving of all praise. It's bleak and depressing but powerful, aided by brilliant cinematography. Each frame, each shot is framed with purpose.
It's the opposite of a romance movie, in this two lovers are continually separated while Briony lives with the guilt of one fateful decision.
Watch it.

Atonement was nominated for seven Oscars at the 80th Academy Awards. It won for Best Original Score, securing nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Supporting Actress for Saoirse Ronan.

I was surprised it didn't get a nomination for best director, but it was in a class with the masterpiece and winner The Coen brothers for No Country for Old Men, as well as Paul Thomas Anderson for There Will Be Blood.

This opens in 1935 with thirteen year old writer Briony (Saoirse Ronan) seeing her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the house servant's son Robbie (James McAvoy) outside of her window. He's demeaning Cecilia, so it appears. Briony misreads the situation, which was easy to do, and the movie deftly cuts to show us what really transpired.

From the start, it's a gripping story. The editing strives to put us in Briony's point of view. We see what she sees, but we then get the added benefit of seeing what really happened. Throughout the movie scenes are played out of sequence. We see an outcome first, and then what led up to the scene which completely changes the tone. This method of editing continues throughout the film, tying directly to the ending.

The movie hinges on a lie Briony tells about Robbie, propelling the plot forward. I read reviews disliking  Briony, calling her vindictive and lacking empathy. While she did a horrible thing, she wasn't just surprised, she was betrayed and heartbroken. In an instant her school girl crush is over. She wanted to punish Robbie, but never considered the repercussions. It's a very similar situation to a very different movie, Jagten (2012). In Jagten, a school girl crush completely upends a man's life. Kid's don't think ahead, they're reactive. As smart as Briony is, she's still a kid.

The movie flashes forward a few years. Robbie is a solider in World War II. His one goal is to get back to Cecilia. Despite the years that have passed, they've rekindled what they once had after he meets her by chance. She is now a nurse. Robbie is in France, heading to Dunkirk. The Dunkirk beach scene is impressive as the camera tracks Robbie, slowly weaving and revealing more soldiers and madness. It's a five minute single shot. Watch it! Better yet, watch this movie first. While it could seem indulgent, you need to think about this scene after having watched the final scene.

Briony (Romola Garai) is now a nurse. We're left to wonder if she became a nurse to follow her sister, choosing to suffer the same fate out of guilt or to make it up to the world by providing aid. She knows she made a mistake that cost two people their happiness, and she can't fix it.

This is certainly a bleak movie. The out of sequence editing serves a large role for the conclusion, creating an emotional impact. The elderly Briony (Vanessa Redgrave), now an author doing a television interview, relays beautiful sentiments about how she finally atoned for her sins.

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