Friday, December 07, 2007

Atonement (Review)

An actors film that is at times engrossing and often satisfying but there are flaws that hold it back from true romanic epic status.

This non-linear narrative starts off in a pastoral British country estate in the tense times between the wars. The owner's eldest daughter (Keira Knightley) relaxes after coming home from Cambridge and falls for the long time, yet upwardly mobile helper boy played by James MacAvoy. On a hot day the house gets packed with family and friends and mistakes happen... and other things happen that are not mistakes. Briony Tallis, the youngest daughter, allows her overactive imagination to get the best of her and MacAvoy is falsely accused of a heinous crime and sent to prision. 4 years later he enlists and before shipping to France the romance is rekindled providing the perfect set up for painful seperation and a sweet homecoming.

The deftly handled overlapping narrative of the first act flips between several first person set-ups to reveal several points of the story. The acting is pure british stage and uniformly impressive. The flaws aren't revealed until the war begins and the overlapping turns to flashback laden timeshifting and the story gets muddled. The small upstairs/downstairs intruigue of the early part of the film works beautifully but the the grand epic of the longing and horrors of war fail to live up to this start. There is one long-shot on the beach in Dunkirk that lasts for more than five minutes yet despite this technical feat the scene adds nothing to the plot and this is just one scene among many that while powerful in their own right are adrift from any relavance to the story and fail to build up MacAvoy's character.

Once back in Britian we catch up with the Tallis sisters and the film refocuses with strong character scenes and plot resolution on the way to an emotionally powerful finale which is tellegraphed by some subtle flightly camera work and a sense that something is slightly off but the bad taste of the second act still lingers. I liked the film for the most part and the leads are strong but it is far from the Oscar contender the hype would lead one the lead to believe.


A special mention about the main title theme and its variations...loved it. Though I don't know him by name Dario Marianelli (did V for Vendetta) crafts a great piece around a base of type strokes from a typewriter and it works beautifully.

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