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Review: Atonement

Atonement
12.07.2007
9 10

Plot: On the eve of the Second World War, an upper class English family is torn apart when the youngest daughter Briony (Saoirse Ronan) falsely accuses a servant's son, Robbie (James McAvoy) of raping her teenage cousin. Briony's older sister, Cecillia (Keira Knightley)- madly in love with Robbie, believes he's innocent and becomes estranged from her family. Years later- during the war, the now teenage Briony (Romola Garai) is torn apart by guilt, and seeks to atone for her sin by reuniting the separated lovers.

Review: Let's face it- people love a tragedy. One need look no further than TITANIC, the highest grossing film of all time (not accounting for inflation) to see that audiences eat this stuff up. Another good example is THE NOTEBOOK. Sure it was schmaltzy and predictable- but people went nuts for it.

I believe ATONEMENT is going to be a similar success when it comes out this Friday, and I would not be surprised if the film gets a whole boatload of Oscar nominations. Box office grosses and potential Oscars aside, is the film any good? Absolutely yes- and this comes from a guy who loathed THE NOTEBOOK and thought TITANIC was extremely overrated (time is proving me right on this one!).

The film works on many levels for several reasons. One- the source material is solid. Ian McEwan is one of the finest authors working today, and the novel has been faithfully adapted by screenwriter Christopher Hampton. Unlike many other book to film adaptations, I never felt like I was watching the cliff notes edition of ATONEMENT. The characters are extremely rich and layered. Unlike the people in THE NOTEBOOK & TITANIC, the characters feel real- thanks in no small part to the terrific cast, which is expertly directed by Joe Wright.

Truth be told- I've always thought that Keira Knightley was a tad over rated. With this film, I think she's finally crossed over into real adult roles. She does an absolutely wonderful job as Cecillia. Once her initially snobbish, stiff upper lip character breaks down towards the end of the first act, the performance really comes together and throughout the rest of the film you truly believe that you're watching someone that's literally been torn apart by love.

Her co-star, James McAvoy does a similarly excellent job, with his role being a tad less showy that Knightley's. However, it's McAvoy that really carries the film during it's most powerfull sequences- which are without a doubt the scenes set during the Dunkirk evacuation. There's once sequence where Robbie wanders along the beach that's shot in one take by director Wright, and this sequence will no doubt become the scene that'll be shown in awards show montages in the New Year.

As the teenage Briony, Romola Garai probably has the most difficult role. She does a spectacular job conveying the guilt that dominates Briony over the course of the war. Garai probably won't get as much attention as Knightley & McAvoy, but I really feel that she's the glue that holds the film together- and propels it towards a satisfying, if bittersweet conclusion.

Following his considerable success with PRIDE & PREJUDICE(which previously paired him with Knightley), director Joe Wright really crosses over the the A list with this film. The previously mentioned single take shot in Dunkirk has to be seen to be believed. Elaborate single take shots don't always come across, but I think Wright's use of the technique is the best I've seen since CHILDREN OF MEN.

ATONEMENT is definitely a film worth seeing the holiday season- and ranks among the best films of the year. But don't take my word for it- see it for yourself. Just don't forget to bring along a hanky or two.

My Grade: 9/10

Source: JoBlo.com

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