MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
James McAvoy as ROBBIE TURNER
Keira Knightley as CECILIA TALLIS
Romola Garai as BRIONY TALLIS (AGE 18)
Saoirse Ronan as BRIONY TALLIS (AGE 13)
Vanessa Redgrave as BRIONY TALLIS (OLDER)
Directed by: Joe Wright
Studio: Focus Features
BY KEVIN CARR
I’ll have to admit that when I first saw the trailers and the posters for “Atonement,” I wasn’t exactly excited. I had seen Joe Wright’s beloved film “Pride & Prejudice,” and I was bored to tears. This pretty much has to do with the fact that I find Jane Austin highly overrated. And haven’t there been enough “Pride & Prejudice” films, anyway?
Now, “Atonement” is not a Jane Austin story, but it could be, if Jane Austin hardened up her subject matter a bit. It’s a period piece and has the beautiful look we’ve come to expect from a Joe Wright movie. However, instead of dealing with the angst of love that never happens, “Atonement” deals with some heavy issues.
Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) is a childhood friend of Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley). However, now that they’re all grown up, they have a special attraction. Of course, Cecilia is at a higher social level than Robbie, but that doesn’t stop them from stealing a love affair. The only fly in this ointment is Cecilia’s younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan), who misinterprets a sordid letter from Robbie to Cecilia and is thrown into a panic when she sees them in a passionate embrace.
Briony’s reaction sets in motion a sequence of event that rips the young lovers apart. As Briony lives the rest of her life, she reflects on her sister’s love affair, and when she’s old enough to realize what really happened, she searches for atonement. (Clever, how I worked that in…)
I was pleasantly surprised with this film, considering how much I was dreading it. While it appeals to the crowds who like period pieces, it also deals with some very real and very adult issues. Instead of all the Jane Austin repression, Wright deals with the harsh realities of war, love and revenge. It is a sweeping piece that can make a good date movie simply because the men can enjoy the harder story elements while the women swoon over the atmosphere.
I will say that I was taken by surprise at how well this movie did during the award season. While I enjoyed it, I didn’t think it was worthy of all the accolades it got. But kudos to the filmmakers for taking home a Golden Globe as well as a case of other awards throughout the season. The film was very deserving of the awards for cinematography (although the 360 money shot was a bit distracting, if not well conceived) and score, which uses a brilliantly devised rhythm section held together with a typewriter.
The DVD comes with a nice slate of special features, including Joe Wright’s commentary track that can also be heard over the movie’s deleted scenes. There’s an extensive documentary about the making of the film, and another focusing on how the beloved book was adapted into a screenplay.