A limited release, I heard about Atonement via a radio advertisement on my way to work. The commercial was a montage of hyper-romanticized lines from the film, a voice over done by a deep voiced voice actor (say that 5 times fast) who quoted gushing film critics (“the most achingly romantic movie since Titanic”), and with heart-wrenching, “just let me sob in peace” music playing in the background. Though this film had me at “achingly romantic,” I cringe at the thought of someone rolling their eyes and overlooking this remarkable film at the fault of the advertisers who betrayed this film’s distinct uniqueness. It isn’t all achingly romantic.
Keira Knightley and The Last King of Scotland’s James McAvoy star is the intense, regret-filled film, Atonement, a film that focuses on how one mistake can drastically affect the lives of many. Already at thirteen, Briony Tallis is a writer. She possesses a broad vocabulary and has a preference for the fanciful. Cecillia Tallis, Briony’s older sister (Knightley) and Robbie Turner (McAvoy), the educated and intelligent gardener’s son, are in love, but when an unfortunate incident occurs, Briony accuses Robbie of a crime he did not commit, which forces Cecillia and Robbie apart.
Cinematographically beautiful, Atonement takes this simple story and gives it an editing edge. Many scenes are unconventionally placed on a semi-linear track. Some scenes are shown again from a different person’s perspective rather than editing the scenes together, as 99.9% of movies do, or at a later moment in the film, a sequence will repeat for emphasis. Other scenes are rewound while the scene showing the chaos in Dunkirk continues for 5 minutes without any cuts. The cinematography and editing is interesting and distinct. The mise en scenes of one shot literally made me say “Wow” out loud in the theater (the scene with the family standing on the front steps). The music is amazing, and the type-writer music creates an intense and suspenseful atmosphere during the first half of the film.
The unfortunate bit is the story wasn’t fantastic. I didn’t understand why Cecillia had an initial disregard for Robbie or Briony’s reason for her terrible accusation. Some parts of the movie were romantic enough but not in the melodramatic way that it’s portrayed on commercials. Reality, in the film, is very fuzzy. Sometimes I didn’t know if the scene in front of me was a memory, a fantasy, or the current moment. I still haven’t decided if this is something I liked.
Atonement’s sophistication is what makes it out of the ordinary, and it definitely makes it Oscar bait. Hopefully this film won’t be over-looked. Citizen Kane doesn’t have a good story, and look where it is on AFI!
The Upside: A good film for aspiring cinematographers.
The Downside: The story wasn’t good enough.
On the Side: Keira, please eat something, anything.