Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan
Director: Joe Wright
Running Time: 123 mins
Atonement is a British film about a young girl who inadvertently changes the lives of those around her after accusing her older sister’s lover of a crime he didn’t commit.
Although this is an incredibly elegant and beautiful film, complete with pristine cinematography, costume and production design, it’s one whose story and appeal rests significantly on a very brief moment that changes the entire film; a moment that just wasn’t striking enough to really enthrall me in the story following on, meaning that the entire remainder of the film was unfortunately lost.
Let’s start on the bright side, with the fact that the film is, at least visually speaking, absolutely stunning. Not only is it complete with some of the most pristine sets and costumes you’ll ever see, as well as all the elegance of a classic English novel, but also directed and filmed with incredible style from beginning to end.
Joe Wright directs the film very well throughout, initially cementing that Pride And Prejudice-esque atmosphere with the shots of the luxurious interior of the mansion, the rolling hills of the countryside, and the emphasis on the elegant dresses and lifestyle of the main characters. However, as the film progresses, and the story becomes darker, that strongly pristine atmosphere ebbs away, and is replaced by something different.
In that, the film really isn’t the Pride And Prejucide replica that you expect early on, while its eventual transition into the events of the Second World War opens up for what can only be described as one of the most amazing and impressive shots of the century: a stunning one-take tracking shot that weaves in and out of the chaos on the beach at Dunkirk during the evacuation, something that had my jaw on the floor.
So, it’s clear that Atonement really is a beautiful film on all counts. However, it doesn’t quite manage to achieve the same brilliance when it comes to its story, and that’s unfortunately because it fails to really grab you at its pivotal moment early on.
The central plot is interesting, and offers up tension and drama over a long period of time, but the biggest problem that I found with it was how the initial spark was presented. Take Force Majeure, another film whose story is completely changed by a very brief yet important moment early on. In that film, the moment is presented in a striking manner – to the point that it’s ingrained in your brain for the rest of the film – while it’s repeatedly reinforced throughout by the dialogue.
In Atonement, however, we briefly see that moment, but it’s just not emphasised in a way that makes it a powerful and incredibly memorable central focus for the entirety of the the film’s remaining story, which means that not only did I feel underwhelmed by the heightened drama surrounding the event, but was also frustrated by the fact that I was never grabbed and shocked by it to the point where the following story would be so engrossing.
That’s the trouble with Atonement. It’s a truly beautiful piece of work that’s an absolute delight to marvel at, however it doesn’t manage to do the same with its storytelling, failing to grab you in a way that will keep you engrossed over its entire duration, which is why I’m giving it a 7.0 overall.