Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ATONEMENT: A Tragic Love Story

ATONEMENT (romantic drama)

Cast: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy (pic), Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave, Saoirse Ronan and Brenda Blethyn
Director: Joe Wright
Time: 125 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? "Atonement" is about a writer's bid to put right a heinous lie that wrecked the lives of two of the people she loved most. Adapted from the novel by Ian McEwan, it is a searing love story that is timeless and universal, a romantic tragedy that can plague anyone at anytime...

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? It is 1935 and the world is on the brink of war. In the picturesque English countryside however, a well-to-do family and their friends are enjoying life as usual. Briony Tallis, 13, (Saoirse Ronan) is watching a developing relationship between her older sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightley), and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of their servant. Briony is jealous over the relationship as she has a crush on Robbie. However, the young girl also views Robbie as a seducer and wants to keep her sister safe from his advances. When a young guest who is staying with the family is raped, Briony comes up with a lie that will forever alter the lives of the lovers - as well as her own.

HITS & MISSES: Like his 2005 "Pride & Prejudice" (which also starred Knightley), director Joe Wright captures the English countryside and its residents' behaviour in all their glory. The air is thick with class tension and sexual anxiety as the precocious Briony tries to comprehend her own complex emotions regarding the dashing Robbie, and those of Cecilia's. In one scene, in which Briony witnesses what seems to be a row between Cecilia and Robbie, Wright also presents the 'truth' of what really happened. The director does the same for another scene in which Briony sees her sister being 'attacked' by Robbie in the library. Still, it all boils down to the feelings of a young girl scorned when Briony bears false witness against Robbie, shattering the future of all three of them.

The scene then shifts to Dunkirk, France, during the First World War where the convicted Robbie is drafted as a soldier. Here, we see the poor man stumbling through the horrors of the battlefield, trying hard to survive so that he can return to his beloved. Cecilia, meanwhile, has become a nurse to the injured soldiers in London. So has Briony, now 18 (and played by Romola Garai), in a bid to atone for what she realises was a tragic error.
Wright's images of war, although bloody and sometimes brutal, are rather detached and uninteresting. They lack the drama and character interaction of the first half of the movie where the young Saoirse Ronan shines as the spiteful schemer. Knightley, however, is convincing as the beautiful and light-headed Cecilia, but the role is not as meaty as her Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride & Prejudice". McAvoy exudes the requisite screen chemistry with Knightley, and he manages to get our sympathy as the victim of social prejudice. Here, he should be making many female hearts a-flutter, especially with that pathetic hound-dog look in his eyes. Complementing the tragic story is the soundtrack, which uses the typewriter as a percussion instrument, lending a dissonant tone and keeping the viewers on edge.

THE LOWDOWN: "Atonement" ends on a high note with Vanessa Redgrave as the aged Briony, now a famous writer who wants to atone for her sins in her 'last' book. Yes, Redgrave's performance is so believable and touching that we can even forgive Briony for that evil lie.
"Atonement" has apparently gotten the Hollywood Foreign Press Association excited, earning seven Golden Globe nominations including Best Drama and Best Director. It should be worth a watch for love story fans.


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