Directed by: Joe Wright
Premise: A wealthy family living in the English countryside is ripped apart first by a false accusation of rape and second by the outbreak of World War II. The film tracks the ripple effects of the accusation on the lives of the three main characters and the accuser’s attempt to right her wrong.
What Works: The technical craft of Atonement is terrific. The film’s cinematography and sound design are very impressive. The first act of the story, although long, is by far the best portion of the story. The opening navigates successfully between multiple characters, features a lot of sharp dialogue, and a lot of humor. The romance between Robbie (James McAvoy) and Cecilia (Keira Knightley) works and Atonement’s willingness to step out of some of the typical British period romance clichés helps a lot. In particular, McAvoy’s mischievous qualities plays well here, better than they did in Becoming Jane. Saoirse Ronan is very watchable as the young Briony and she has a wit and energy about her that is a lot of fun to watch.
What Doesn’t: The speed, wit, and drama of the first half of Atonement are not sustained in rest of the film. The middle of the picture is filled with the characters wandering around the landscape of World War II but without anything to do, and then meeting with each other but nothing happening between them. Romola Garai stars as the adult Briony and walks around her scenes vacantly with little reference to the girl of the first act. The film does not have any scenes connecting the young, innocent Briony to the older character who struggles with what she has done, and so the film lacks any insight into the cost of the Briony’s guilt. The film culminates in a finale that pulls an equivalent of the “it’s only a dream” cheat and it succeeds in insulting the viewer but does not give any new illumination on the drama of the past two hours.
Bottom Line: Atonement is an underwhelming picture. It has a great start but after the film finally gets its story going, the picture goes flat until it finally falls apart in the ending.
Episode: #175 (January 25, 2008)