Movie: Atonement (2006)

Posted 28 June, 2008 by Li in Entertainment / 0 Comments

And now the following is my review of the 2007 adaptation starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave and directed by Joe Wright. Seeing the trailer for this movie was actually what got me to check out the book in the first place but I didn’t get to watch it until I got my hands on the DVD back in March. So the following review will be tied in with the book review I made in the previous post. Spoilers ahead!

I have to say for starters that Joe Wright is an amazing director. I thought he did a marvellous job with Pride and Prejudice (2005) so when I found out that this was his next project, I was intrigued. And he doesn’t disappoint (I also like that he actually spoke more this time around in the commentary for this movie; his commentary for the P&P album was relatively sparce); his overall direction was magnificent, I was appalled that he was not nominated for an Oscar for this movie. He and his crew did an amazing job in setting the overall tone of the movie. I especially commend his and the cinematography crew for really giving you a straight-off-the-book feel for the movie and the story; for example, the 1935 section feels like the 1935 section—the hazy days, the bright colours, the overall atmosphere and the glamour of the 1930s.

After reading the book for a second time, I noticed small events and moments were missing from the adaptation (then again, what movie adaptation doesn’t have these issues?) but overall, the movie is pretty accurate. Christopher Hampton really did a marvellous job at truncating what is by large a very internal novel and presenting the scenes and dialogue in a way that allows the audience to understand what is going on. I also like that he translated some of the internal dialogue from the book to the movie (i.e. when Robbie says “Dearest Cecilia, the story can resume. The one I had been planning on that evening walk. I can become again the man who once crossed the surrey park at dusk, in my best suit, swaggering on the promise of life. The man who, with the clarity of passion, made love to you in the library. The story can resume. I will return. Find you, love you, marry you and live without shame.” — possibly my favourite lines in the entire movie). At times it may seem sparce in dialogue and emphasis on remembering or moving, but it really works for the movie if you’re with the storyline (and it helps if you read the book).

The actors for that portrayed these characters also gave such a tremendous and wonderful performance; I especially wished that James McAvoy was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Robbie. From all of them, he and Saoirse Ronan (and Keira Knightley, although she had less screentime than the the other two) gave especially phenomenal performances but it’s such a great thing to see such a wonderful cast in such a movie.

James McAvoy…what can I say? He’s a bit different than the way he’s described in the book (I can’t imagine Robbie as this tall and massive figure as he’s described briefly; every time I think of Robbie, James McAvoy comes to mind—clearly an indication that he owns the character thanks to his wonderful performance) but he carries Robbie with the same optimism and fullness of life. His transformation between the three parts of the movie/novel reflects the journey and the transformation that was in the book; it’s sad to watch Robbie change from this hopeful, simple individual to this doubtful, lost man who’s struggling to survive through the chaos of war. But there are two scenes that particularly stood out for me (aside from that line use said during one of the major montages):

  • The first was when he met up with Cecilia in the cafe prior to his training. He’s paler, he’s sadder, he’s not as confident as he used to be. He’s struggling to interact as normally as he could with Cecilia but the moment when she told him she had to be back at the hospital in half and hour and you see him tear up and say “Oh God”, the outburst of emotion was just so genuine, so vulnerable, so revealing of what’s going on and what he’s feeling. It’s a nice touch, and although the way he delivered it seemed to give hint to his actual accent, it’s perfect and heartbreaking. And his eyes were so blue in this scene.
  • The scene between Briony, Cecilia and Robbie at the flat. The following sequence from the moment Robbie comes out of the washroom to get a good look at Briony and onward was just perfect: his temper is slowly rising with every sentence right up until he snaps at the lines “Five years ago you didn’t care about telling the truth. You and all your family, you just assumed that for all my education, I was still little better than a servant, still not to be trusted. Thanks to you, they were able to close ranks and throw me to the fucking wolves!” That to me was the Oscar moment, the scene you submit for consideration. You really feel the tension in that scene, Robbie’s anger rising with every word, every syllable (you even see saliva flying when he yelled the last sentence out). That was the moment to me for James McAvoy as Robbie Turner

I know there are people out there who rumble about Keira Knightley’s performances overall, but I find her to be a good actress, she chooses very interesting and entertaining roles and this has certainly to be one of the best ones she’s partaken in. She’s done a very good job in portraying Cecilia especially in the 1935 segment of the movie; her actions, her accent and her words are presented in a way that establishes her character as one of the upper classes. Description-wise, she seems to have taken it to heart as well; in the book, Cecilia is described as somewhat horsey (which doesn’t sound very flattering) but I noticed that Keira drew her mouth in in such a way that it looked rather small (as it was also described in the book). James’s transformation between the 1935/1939-1940 segments are visible both physically and emotionally, but Cecilia’s transformation is just as important though not as centre stage. The make-up department did an amazing job in really showing her as a woman who’s gone through fatigue and hard nights and came through, that she wasn’t the same person she was in 1935. And the performance as the one who’s strong for Robbie through this is as evident; for example, she was the one who reached out to touch him first in the cafe sequence. Although she wasn’t in the movie and the story as much as Robbie or Cecilia, her presence is felt and Keira’s scenes (and chemistry) with James is vital.

Briony, who is integral throughout the movie as we do see the story through her eyes, was perfectly cast through Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave. Each gave a remarkable performance, giving viewers a glimpse of her transformation from a young girl to an successful and aged novelist. Saoirse in particular gave a very compelling and genuine performance as the young Briony; she certainly fit the bill of how I imagined Briony to be like during 1935—she really makes Briony the kid you really want to hate for what she did. She definitely deserved the Oscar nomination for her performance in this movie, she got Briony down to a point. Romola I thought was a bit of the weaker link between the three performances, I personally think she could’ve been stronger in the scene involving the dying soldier with the brain injury. But the scene with Robbie and Cecilia in their flat was perfect. Finally, Vanessa Redgrave gave a wonderful performance at the end; it was mostly here with a bit of the late Anthony Minghella as the interviewer coming in here and there. The last shots of her just staring into the camera with the black background, reminiscent of Briony telling the inspector the lie, was just so open, so vulnerable, so genuine in performance. It was wonderful to watch. Kudos again to the make-up department for making these three actresses look so similar and making the transition so much flawless.

Finally, I just wanted to mention the soundtrack briefly (as it did win an Oscar): Dario Marianelli once again composed a wonderful soundtrack. I absolutely adored Pride and Prejudice and Atonement is just another shining example of what an amazing composer he is. His music really added emotion and beauty to this movie, whether it be the typewriter’s touch in Briony’s theme song or the gut-wrenching theme used in the Dunkirk/WW2 scenes. Every time I listen to it, I can’t help but remember particular scenes from the movie. I’m glad that this soundtrack won the Academy award, otherwise I’d be really ticked off (lol)!

So that’s all I could really think of about the movie; I highly recommend it, it’s a wonderful piece and it follows closely to the novel (though there are small changes/interpretations here and there), something that you don’t often see in adaptations.

Rating: ★★★★★


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