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Atonement: Riveting and Beautiful

I haven't read Ian McEwan's 2002 book on which Atonement is based, so speaking from a strictly cinematic standpoint, Atonement is a stunning work of film. The story is told efficiently and with an eye toward capturing both the romantic beauty of the English countryside as well as the frightening cruelties of war. The winning combination of a tight script and brilliant direction by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) pretty much makes everything else fall into place. The device of shuttling back and forth in time keeps things interesting, piquing our interest as to cause and effect (i.e. if this happens in the future, what happened in the past to cause it?). The performances are solid — particularly James McAvoy's, but mostly on the part of the women playing Briony at various stages in her life — though the actors most likely benefited greatly from such assured direction.

The story spans several decades, beginning in 1935 at the posh estate where Cecilia's (Keira Knightley) family lives and where the son of the housekeeper, Robbie (McAvoy), while still slightly removed because of his class, has mostly become a part of the family. Just as he and Cecilia begin to act on their attraction toward one another, Cecilia's young sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan as the young Briony) accuses Robbie of a heinous crime he did not commit, and he is sent away. Choosing military service instead of prison, Robbie is serves in World War II, and though he and Cecilia continue to love each other, their lives are never quite the same. As for Briony, the guilt of her mistake haunts her throughout her life, though she tries to achieve atonement through her writing. That's just the plot, though, so

My favorite aspect of the movie is this: The story's action is often accompanied by the rapid click-clack sound of a typewriter, a constant reminder of a moment that changed everything, as well as the sound that exemplifies Briony's means of seeking redemption. The most clever thing about this is when this clacking actually becomes the film's score, a rhythmic drumbeat that provides an accelerating pulse to the visuals. It not only makes the action seem more frantic and intense, it starts to sound like music, a tune of desperation.

The way the story unfolds by jumping back and forth in time works well to keep an audience riveted. I was so immersed in these peoples' lives that I was surprised at the end to find that two whole hours had gone by. And though I plan on reading the novel by Ian McEwan, in some ways I'm glad I didn't read it before seeing the film, as the surprises in the story were that much more effective. Several of my fellow viewers must not have read the book either, for there were audible gasps and murmurs floating up around the room. I just love it when that happens. I loved so much about the experience of watching this film that I must go see it a few more times. I wonder if I was so fully in the movie's grasp I might have missed some things. This is one movie I am excited to watch over and over again, and I certainly recommend everyone else see it at least once.

To see the trailer and more clips from Atonement check out


Join The Conversation
ad2121 ad2121 9 years
kmcnich kmcnich 9 years
I just saw the movie this past weekend. I really only had an idea of it being a love story...yet it opened up way beyond that. I love a movie that grabs you, pulls you in and makes you pay attention to the details (especially when done well). I thought the character portrayal was interesting, characters set in a formal, english, aristocratic setting overlayed by this immense english countryside laid out like a beautiful blanket. Post Victorian era, emotions were something you kept to yourself and yet this caused people to dramatize every minute detail of their day - great to witness. I had not read the book before, so no thoughts there. The cause and effect and circumstances surrounding the characters lives made you feel the anguish, sorrow, selfishness, heartache of each role and you could be both sad and mad at the same time. I am usually no crier...but will admit that as the layers were peeled back on this onion, I was grabbing my dates sleeve by the end. Gotta admit, love a good cry sometimes.
PSaddict PSaddict 9 years
I have to agree with MindayH...the character development left a lot to the imagination. I just didn't feel as invested in the romance as I would have expected. I just started the book, so I hope it can fill the void. But it was a beautiful movie and the acting was great.
WhatTheFrockBlog WhatTheFrockBlog 9 years
I finally saw this yesterday. What a beautiful film. I can't wait to read the novel now.
rivrchild rivrchild 9 years
Finally saw it. Beautiful film, and one of the best adaptations of a book to film that I've ever seen. My only criticism would be that (beautiful performance from Keira Knightley aside) Cecilia's character seemed a bit underdeveloped, or lacking demension. But it seemed that way in the book too, and matched what I interpreted of her exactly. I especially love the scene where Robbie first writes his letter, the cutting back and forth between him and Cecelia, the cinematography in these scenes alone was breathtaking. I, like buzzsugar, will definitely be seeing this again.
dannysf dannysf 9 years
Cannot wait to see this movie!
yaliyah yaliyah 9 years
Just saw the movie. So beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. I was crying throughout.
MindayH MindayH 9 years
I am sorry to sound so negative after so many rave reviews. I enjoyed the book, but thought that the movie did a horrible job with character development. I was so frustrated with every scene change, thinking "are the really moving on, or is it someone else's point of view." If you want to enjoy this movie, I would suggest not reading the book first, as it adds no additional perspective or insight into the story.
iAMthefuture iAMthefuture 9 years
P.S did anyone see James McAvoy in that Brit indie film,Starter for 10?
iAMthefuture iAMthefuture 9 years
omigosh,u sooo need to read the book,I cried at the end
em1282 em1282 9 years
I'm glad to hear it was so amazing. I couldn't find it at a theatre near me so I'll have to try again this weekend. I adore James McAvoy and I have no doubt he's going to become a really well-known actor in the next few years.
briggs313 briggs313 9 years
Ia gree with the entire review! So good ... but no mention of that gorgeous green dress? I never read the book but I was talking with a friend of mine who had and she mentioned how in the book the dress was almost like a character ... and this dress certainly was stunning enough for me to take note! Loved the movie, so sad, but good, and tragic, and wonderful!
youngheart222 youngheart222 9 years
I saw Atonement two months ago and loved it! I think it's one of the most brilliant movies, especially when it comes to cinematography and music score...and James McAvoy's portrayal of Robbie is amazing! But I have to say that I loved the book a bit more, maybe because I read it before I saw the movie so I knew what to expect. And I have to say that I cried after I finished the book but that didn't happen after watching the movie, probably because I knew what was about to happen so I prepared myself...Anyway, Atonement is a must-see movie in every aspect...
figurine figurine 9 years
Exciting! I'm kinda dying to see this movie. :D
mademoiselle2009 mademoiselle2009 9 years
i most definitely absolutely positively for ever and ever loved this movie. it was heartbreaking yet sooo beautifully done. while it may not have turned out as some would want, it's a depiction of a beautiful story and love that was forced a narrow path. i loved love loved the ending though, even if they weren't technically together, briony redeemed herself for sure. everyone maakes mistakes and you have to live with them, and briony had quite a mistake to company with
rivrchild rivrchild 9 years
PJ - I think, yes, there's a possibility you might have to bring a tissue for this one. Maybe. I'm only going by the book, which definitely had me sobbing in some parts, but they may have left those parts out in the movie, not sure. I loved this book, I can't say it enough. I just finished it about 30 minutes ago. It's still so fresh that's is hard to put words around any of it right now, but it's left my heart feeling both heavy and light at the same time. For some reason the feeling of it reminds me of Cold Mountain, which is one of my favorites. So if you've read that, and like it, then you might like this one as well.
lilegwene lilegwene 9 years
Great review! Makes me want to check it out :)
PJ-PJ-PJ PJ-PJ-PJ 9 years
Is this a movie that will make me cry? I still haven't even been able to watch The Notebook yet, because I know it will make me cry. I have to be in the mood for that kind of thing, & I really don't want to do it at the movie theater.
mellafe mellafe 9 years
I didn't really like the book so I was very curious as to what they were going to do with the movie, how they would make it work, and I agree, I think they did a wonderful job. Joe Wright is such an amazing director, and he has the best team behind him. I loved this movie as an adaptation, but I had the same problem with it than the problem I had with the book... only the ending really got to me. (And yes, I only watched it because Keira and James were in it)
rivrchild rivrchild 9 years
I am currently riveted by the novel, and can't wait until this comes to my local theater. I will probably finish the book tonight. Although I've seen the trailer a few times, I'm glad that I am reading the book before seeing the whole film. It's interesting to picture the different actors in the roles as you read the book, and I will be even more interested to compare what my own "movie version" of the book would have been, with the one that they made. californiagirl - actually, you are slightly onto something there ... I won't give away anything more because I haven't finished it myself, so I'm not sure exactly how it pans out!!!! ...
MisterPinkNoTip MisterPinkNoTip 9 years
I can't wait to see this!
JuliusCaesar JuliusCaesar 9 years
I saw this way back in September (I live in Scotland) and I loved it to bits. The movie stayed with me for days afterwards and even now, I can't stop from choking up when I remember what happens in the end.
HistoryGeek913 HistoryGeek913 9 years
I am looking forward to this movie. It looks visually beautiful, and it sounds like there is good content there, too!
blondie829 blondie829 9 years
I'm excited to see this!
californiagirlx7 californiagirlx7 9 years
The girl who plays Briony is really creepy in the movie trailer. The trailer was really confusing for me, at first I thought Briony was jealous that Robbie liked Cecelia...ewww.
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