Sunday, December 16, 2007


This has received a slew of Golden Globe nominations, so I was curious to see what the fuss was all about. Pride and Prejudice director Joe Wright teams up again with the lovely Keira Knightley and the result is visually arresting, but not quite the masterpiece critics are calling it.

The film, which starts in 1935 but centers around the World War II time period, tells the story of a precocious young writer, Briony (played to perfection by Saoirse Ronan) who concocts a tale with devastating consequences to her older sister, Cecilia (a luminous Knightley) and her lower-class lover, Robbie (an outstanding James McAvoy). Although it ends up being Briony's story as she struggles for atonement for the false accusations she made, it is really Robbie's journey that has the most emotional power and carries the film's focus.

The film has been compared to The English Patient and Lawrence of Arabia--both of which I loathed for their unending tedium. Atonement is nowhere near as tedious, but it does suffer from a lack of action. There's not much talking either and so what we are left with is exquisitely shot scenes of beautiful people, gorgeous places or death and destruction. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey turns the very personal and intimate story into a sweeping romantic epic. Every single shot powerfully and perfectly captures every nuanced detail of the scene. The film is breathtaking to look at--from flush of passion on the young lovers skin to the lush English landscape to the bleak battlefields of France.

Adding to the visual sensuality is the pitch perfect musical score by Dario Marianelli, featuring pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Many of the tracks incorporate the sound of a manual typewriter--both to symbolize Briony, the writer and as a staccato percussive element. Like the cinematography, the soundtrack is lush and sweeping as well--adding the elements of bittersweet melancholy to the tragic tale of Cecilia and Robbie.

But for me, while the film was beautiful to watch, it lack emotional resonance--and I can't quite put my finger on the reason why. It seemed a bit disjointed and since there wasn't a focal character, it was hard to generate an empathetic connection. We never get any real insight into Briony's actions in order to allow us to sympathize with her and we're only given the briefest glimpse into the hearts of the star-crossed lovers. I always know that something's wrong when you have a sad movie and I'm not crying. I cry at Hallmark commercials for pity's sake! And--although it took until the end of the movie to accomplish--I was emotionally moved by Wright's Pride and Prejudice.

Oh well. Yet another downer movie. Note to self: must seek out a good comedy...

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