It was five or six years ago when I read Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement, but it has stayed with me. Even though I liked the writing style and thought that the characters were very well drawn, it was a hard book for me to get through. As soon as Robbie handed Briony his note, I knew things were going to take a turn for the worse; I didn’t want that to happen, so I put the book down for a while. I couldn’t stay away, though; I had to find out exactly what happened to all of these great characters. I finished it and loved it, but never felt like I had to emotional strength to read it again. So it was with a feeling of trepidation that I watched Atonement. I didn’t want to see all the bad things happen to the people I cared about. I needn’t have worried. Although it’s a good film, I didn’t get as emotionally caught up with the characters as I did when I read the book. Maybe it’s because I already knew what was going to happen, so I subconsciously made the decision to stay detached.
So what’s the story? On a hot summer’s day in 1935 England, thirteen-year-old Briony witnesses some things that she doesn’t understand and so misinterprets as menacing. When her cousin is attacked, Briony makes an accusation based on what she’s seen earlier. This accusation has serious repercussions for Briony’s sister, Cecelia, and Cecelia’s lover, Robbie, that will echo throughout the rest of their lives.
The Good: The music struck me from the very beginning. I really liked the way that the typewriter was used almost as a percussion instrument. It was very clever and somehow added to the tension of the movie.
The acting was very good. I don’t usually like Keira Knightly, but she really fit her part here. James McAvoy made an excellent Robbie. Saoirse Ronan was nominated for best supporting actress for her role as thirteen-year-old Briony. She has very expressive eyes. Romola Garai plays eighteen-year-old Briony, a young woman haunted by what she did five years before. They are all excellent in their roles.
The cinematography was lovely. The very long tracking shot on the beach emphasized the hopelessness and chaos of the situation. The cinematographer also somehow made the scenes at the country house glow like a long-cherished memory. It’s a very pretty movie.
The screenplay was well-done, too. I was wondering how they were going to show what really happened and also what Briony saw and interpreted. They did an excellent job with that.
The Bad: I kept wondering about the scene between Cecelia and Robbie in the coffee shop/at the bus stop. (SPOILER ALERT): If everything we see in the movie up until the interview is Briony’s story that she’s rewritten for Robbie and Cecelia’s happy ending, how did Briony know about that meeting and the summer cottage? Because when we see Robbie dying, he has the photograph of the beach house. That kind of bugged me.
The Ugly: The movie itself didn’t have anything ugly about it, but the story is frustrating and sad. It’s probably not a good movie for the easily depressed to watch.
Oscar Won: Best achievement in music written for motion pictures, original score.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best motion picture of the year; best performance by an actress in a supporting role (Saoirse Ronan); best writing, adapted screenplay; best achievement in cinematography; best achievement in art direction; best achievement in costume design. (When did the names of the awards get so long?)