ATONEMENT poster James Mcavoy Kiera Knightley

Rating: 3.25 of 5 ★★★¼☆ 

Atonement is a lovely film. It’s simple and straightforward, not lovely because it’s told with a soft lens or because there is a sense of wonder and beauty about it. But lovely because the 1930’s English countryside lends itself toward that, because language and manners were a bit more formal. Lovely because the romance between the two main characters works so very well; it’s enthralling and believable. Lovely also because human beings don’t need to be explained or defined, they are allowed simply to live before us.

The characters are also allowed to be complex which is interesting. Lola, for all her faults, is almost more honest than Briony, because she will not say that it was Paul Marshall. She asks Briony if she is certain, because Lola confesses she won’t say for sure. Even though she must have known, just as I know it wasn’t the twins who gave her Chinese burns on her arm.

Kiera Knightley spends most of the film impassioned or furious.

James McAvoy is given the one given a chance to actually do something. He plays a quiet role, but he does it with such dignity. Robbie’s greatest virtue though is his honesty. He is the counterpoint to Briony’s fancy as he tells her she’s a foolish girl for jumping in the river.

His greatest moment though is when he gets to be angry with Briony, to yell at her about knowing right from wrong. It’s an amazing scene, fantastic. She tries to excuse herself still, by saying the passage of time has enlightened her. But he doesn’t let her get away with that, he asks whether she has to be 18 to tell the truth. He demands honesty from her. And she has no answer.  Over half he performance score is a result of James McAvoy’s extraordinary work in that one scene.

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Except, years later she is able to confess that she is a coward. The film is aptly named because she seeks atonement, knowing she can never have forgiveness or resolution or consolation.

She almost gets what she wants. In the end her honesty, not just about what happened that night but about the parts of the story she changed, about being a coward almost finally make her sympathetic. As does her confession that she changed the ending; that she hoped it wouldn’t be seen as weakness or evasion but as a kindness; to give them in the story what they never had in life.

The last scene was sweet, but it was also sad because you knew it was a lie.

Briony says that she told the story without rhyme or embellishment which begs the question if the film is told that way. I think that is. I think it’s a quiet film, lovely and painful, honest.

There are long shots which are incredible. They create a fluidity to the film which is interesting. I think also that they are intended to immerse the viewer in that moment, in the thousands of soldiers on the beach and this strange world they’ve created. But they also hint that there isn’t quite enough story to fill the time. Especially in the latter half.

I think it deserved most of the Golden Globe nominations it earned, especially James McAvoy who I thought was simply brilliant. Though I might be a bit biased since I have long adored him.


December 31, 2007 | Review , , , , , | this post contains affiliate links