Movie Review: Atonement

The awards season has arrived, and that means the best of the best will be out for the prize. While plenty of great movies are released throughout each year, a clear set of front-runners emerges early on in the season. One of the most highly talked about movies of the year was the Golden Globe winner for Best Drama, “Atonement.” Directed by “Pride & Prejudice’s” Joe Wright, “Atonement” follows the story of Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), a young writer leading a privileged life in England’s countryside. Briony’s imagination often runs wild, causing her to distort the truth into her own fiction. While Briony is lost in her thoughts, her older sister, Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley), finds herself “dizzy in love” with the housekeeper’s son, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy). Jealous of Cecilia and Robbie’s relationship, Briony sets into motion a string of lies that tear the two lovers apart. While Robbie lives through jail and war, Briony must live with her foolish actions and, day-by-day, come to terms with the consequences. Being such a hit with the critics, it was only a matter of time before I saw “Atonement.” And now that I’ve finally watched all 130 minutes of it, I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer. “Atonement” is a masterpiece of a film that will keep you thinking long after the credits roll. The most distinguishing characteristic of “Atonement” is its wonderful cinematography. From the shots of England’s rolling hills at dusk to the sights of the war-torn France, “Atonement” captures beauty in the most unusual places. Lighting is used perfectly to create just the right atmosphere in every scene; I can’t think of a single one that wasn’t brilliantly set up. Wright has created an unforgettable visual feast for film fans everywhere. Going hand-in-hand with the gorgeous camera work is the remarkable editing. Throughout the film, time flies forward and backward. Often, films can get caught up on themselves when trying to manipulate time. However, the cuts and scene changes work surprisingly well. While you might be lost for a second or two in between the transitions, you are quickly pulled back in by the compelling storytelling. It flows quite smoothly, which is an accomplishment for any movie this complex. While your eyes take in the amazing shots, your ears won’t be deprived. “Atonement’s” accompanying soundtrack is astounding. Dario Marianelli has composed an award-winning score using the clicking of typewriters to underscore the flowing music and slowly build up tension. As the clicking gets more frantic and Briony’s lies spin out of control, you can feel yourself getting tense in your seat. The music sets the mood throughout the entire film and will get you caught up in Briony’s world of sin. As much as I loved this movie, it’s not without its faults. I can’t help but feel that a good amount of the film was too drawn-out. A couple of scenes felt like they didn’t have enough script to make them worthwhile or add to the plot. Particularly in the beginning, it’s hard to get attached to the characters because they don’t speak much. It isn’t until a good half-hour into the movie before you find yourself sucked in. This early sluggishness in the film could very easily turn people off. Had the director chosen to move the film along a bit quicker, he would have avoided the boring silences at the beginning. Another somewhat frustrating aspect of “Atonement” is that it relies too much on its climatic ending. While I won’t ruin the ending for you (an ending that great should never be spoiled), I will say that most of the movie hinges on information you are given within the last 20 minutes of the film. While I understand that the director intentionally employed this technique to add to the impact of the film, it can be frustrating watching this story and not understand what happened and why. “Atonement” leaves a lot up in the air, almost too much. Had Wright given the audience a clue midway through the film, it wouldn’t have been nearly as confusing. Briony’s tale of self-redemption isn’t a happy one. In fact, “Atonement” is quite possibly one of the most depressing movies I’ve seen all year. But, don’t let that stop you from seeing this work of art. The cinematography and musical score in themselves create a masterpiece. Despite its few flaws, “Atonement” is guaranteed, if nothing else, to make you think. After all, we all have our crosses to bear. “Atonement” asks, “What are yours?” Grade: 5+