Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Ever since I listened to that innovative and dramatic musical score by Dario Marianelli, I have wanted to see Atonement. It has taken some time, but I finally had the opportunity to check out the movie based on the novel by Ian McEwan.
Set in 1935, the movie stars Saoirse Ronan as eight-year-old Briony Tallis, a young aspiring writer from a wealthy English family. Briony has a crush on the Tallis estateís groundskeeper Robby Turner (James McAvoy). Unfortunately for Briony, though Robby enjoys Brionyís company, his heart belongs to Brionyís older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightly). After years of denying their feelings for one another, an incident at the garden fountain brings the sexual tension between the two to the forefront. Briony witnesses this incident and the green eye of jealousy rears its ugly head.
Prior to attending a dinner party with the Tallis familyís recently returned eldest son and his wealthy, pretentious friend Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch), Robby attempts to type an apology to Cecilia. In one of his attempts he writes a rather erotically explicit letter. When he completes his final draft, he asks Briony to deliver the letter to Cecilia, only to realize he has accidentally given Briony the explicit letter. Briony reads it before delivering it to her sister and becomes incensed. Later, she accidentally stumbles in on Robby and Cecilia as they make love in the family library.
When Brionyís twin cousins disappear during the dinner reception, the family, including Robby, searches the grounds looking for the children. It is during this search that Briony discovers her cousin Lola (Juno Temple) in a compromising sexual position with a man. Lola says she was raped and doesnít know her attacker, but Briony states with certainty that the attacker was Robby. Cecilia is the only person who believes Robby, who finds himself being arrested for a rape he didnít commit. While in prison, Robby is offered the opportunity of early release with the condition that he will join the army in its fight against the Nazis in WWII. Cecilia leaves her family and becomes a nurse, bringing her closer to Robby until he receives his marching orders. Despite the odds against them, the two are still madly in love. Robby promises to return to Cecilia, but will fate get in the way?
The drama of this film is enough to viewer want to scream. Tension and anguish are heightened by the musical score featuring tapping typewriter keys setting the tone. The more intense the drama, the faster and louder the typing gets. The sinister undertones, laced with the usual romantic orchestral fare, perfectly describes the betrayal that the events of the movie revolve around.
The flashbacks in the film can become a tad confusing, but they serve to help tell the story from different points of view. The cinematography of the film is amazing, whether we are viewing the main characters in the rolling beautiful green fields of their childhood home or the horrific, dark and dreary conditions of the war.
The acting in this film is spot on. The romantic chemistry between Keira Knightly and James McAvoy makes the love story between their characters incredibly believable. Saoirse Ronanís performance is disturbing. You instantly find yourself disliking this child, thinking her spoiled and willful. In other words, Ronan did her job, itís just the intensity of the dislike that the viewer will feel that is so disturbing. To me, Vanessa Redgrave was the perfect choice to play the elderly version of Briony. I loved the surprise ending in which we learn that Briony finally became the writer she always wanted to become. The surprise lies within what she tells us about the characters in her latest book, supplying us with the meaning of the movie title.
I canít believe I waited this long to see Atonement! What an incredibly moving movie. Everything about it screams Oscar and Iím surprised this movie didnít win more Academy Awards than it actually did. This is more than just a love story, this is an emotional drama that packs an incredible punch.