In 1935, 13-year-old fledgling writer Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) and her family live a life of wealth and privilege in their enormous mansion. On the warmest day of the year, the country estate takes on an unsettling hothouse atmosphere, stoking Briony’s vivid imagination. Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the educated son of the family’s housekeeper, carries a torch for Briony’s headstrong older sister Cecilia (Kiera Knightley). Cecilia, he hopes, has comparable feelings; all it will take is one spark for this relationship to combust. When it does, Briony – who has a crush on Robbie – is compelled to interfere, going so far as accusing Robbie of a crime he did not commit. Cecilia and Robbie declare their love for each other, but he is arrested – and with Briony bearing false witness, the course of three lives is changed forever. Briony continues to seek forgiveness for her childhood misdeed. Through a terrible and courageous act of imagination, she finds the path to her uncertain atonement, and to an understanding of the power of enduring love.
Genres: Drama, Romance, Adaptation and War
Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality.
Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Brenda Blethyn, Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by: Joe Wright
Atonement starts promisingly, dramatically, and with some humor, as the imagination and moral immaturity of young Briony Tallis lead at first to some standard British drawing room drama, and then to the brink of tragedy. Some very fine acting, cinematography, and great scenery help get us involved.
Then the movie abruptly shifts locations, actors, and pace. Although the plot switches to the historically dramatic circumstances of the second world war, our characters now seem only to be marking time.
And then, near the end of the movie, we are subjected to a writerly device, which forces us to re-evaluate the second half of the movie. There’s a great tradition of these tricks in film and we react differently to each one, but at the end of Atonement, when the device was played, my reaction was simply disappointment, and simply confirmed my decreased engagement in the second half of the movie. Whatever was the intended impact, the drama had long before seeped away.
It’s worth seeing for the acting, cinematography, and that dramatic first hour.