Atonement is about to be released on DVD, and here is my review:
At first, every character we are introduced to seems either immoral, extremely unpleasant, a manipulator of others, or at best, simple-minded. After I saw Juno, which literally contains no villain, and where every character is decent and likeable, the characters at the start of Atonement made me fear I will regret spending the next two hours with them.
However, the film improves somewhat. The worst offender in the characterization department is Keira Knightley, whose performance as Cecilia makes her character far less likeable than actually written. If her character was presented in an admirable light, the story would have become more engaging and emotional.
In the end, the simple-minded, or naive, man, Robbie, played by James McAvoy, becomes the likeable and even heroic character, and as a result, the film becomes watchable and even slightly enjoyable at times. At one point, the story transforms into a war movie and at that time it improves.
Especially worthwhile are two sequences: the scenes of the nurses treating the wounded soldiers, which are based on the memoirs of an actual nurse of World War II named Lucilla Andrews, and the unforgettable, extended single tracking shot of Dunkirk after the battle has ended and the British prepare to evacuate. Horses are shot so that the Germans cannot benefit from their being left behind.
The story itself is ultimately about a youthful error whose impact spirals out of control; the theme is a dark one, but the resolution is somewhat emotionally rewarding in that it confronts how one might have to deal psychologically with such an error.
The production design, costume design and cinematography are superbly beautiful, and puts the viewer right into the period.
The first hour is only exposition; setting up the situation and relationships. I thought that if I could take the film and cut the first hour down to about 20 minutes–just get the important plot points and relationships shown–and recast the role played by Keira Knightley with someone warmer yet stronger, like Angelina Jolie or Kate Beckinsale, I could turn it into a good, short TV movie (by the BBC).
Overall, I would not recommend Atonement, as it adds up to an average film. (I added this lineafter reading Elizabeth’scommentbelow, to clarify my overall impression).
Here’s a link to an article by the author of the novel Atonement, Ian McEwan, and charges that he plagiarized Lucilla Andrews’ autobiography:
Trivia:Robbie types an offensive word early in the film and I didn’t think that was at all necessary. Another word would have done just fine.