rating: (out of 4 stars)
United Kingdom, France; 2007
Directed by Joe Wright; produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Paul Webster; screenplay by Christopher Hampton
Starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Brenda Blethyn, Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Minghella
It must have seemed an impossible task, but director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton have turned Ian McEwan's novel into a film, and not just any film. After 'Pride & Prejudice' Wright has chosen for the same leading lady, Keira Knightley, and again she does not disappoint him. The male lead is played by James McAvoy, who had a breakthrough last year with his terrific performance in 'The Last King of Scotland'.
'Atonement' opens in 1935 in one of those great English mansions where we meet sisters Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan). Briony, only thirteen years old, wants to become a writer: she has the imagination for it. She has a crush on the son of the family's housekeeper, Robbie (James McAvoy), who on his turn is in love with Cecilia. More or less by accident she answers his love in a couple of brilliant scenes. Briony, along with her jealousy and imagination, turns everything she sees around in something that ends with an accusation, changing the lives of the three characters. Robbie, who finally saw his love answered, is arrested.
In the second part of the film Robbie is fighting the war in Dunkirk, France, and Cecilia writes to him from England. Both sisters, not on speaking terms, work as nurses in London. When it comes to the story, I liked the first half better, mostly because there is more interaction between the main characters, but the final minutes of the film change that. Certain revelations will make you want to see this film, especially the second part, again.
That would not be a punishment anyway. In Dunkirk Wright shows us a scene, one single take, being one of the most brilliant I have seen. We start behind the dunes and follow Robbie al the way to the beach, then a long time while he walks there, until he finally enters a building. I remember how I watched the opening scenes from 'Touch of Evil' and 'The Player' over and over again, how I was (and still am) amazed by them; I had the same feeling here.
Finally, all performances should be mentioned again. In just a couple of years Keira Knightley has turned into one of the better actresses of her generation. For 'Atonement' she will receive her second Oscar-nomination. James McAvoy has showed himself as an actor to watch. Here he is close to Knightley's equal. In the supporting category all Briony's are impressive. At age 13 she is played by Saoirse Ronan, at age 18 by Romola Garai, and the revelations I mentioned come from a much older Briony, played by Vanessa Redgrave. She just sits and talks, saying a lot, and not just through words.
|Review by Reinier Verhoef