Joe Wright’s “Atonement”
Strangely enough, I feel exactly the same way about this film as I do about the source material. Like the book, this film is aesthetically pleasing. It is poetically shot, the performances from the cast are astonishing, especially the three Briony’s. There is a sense of foreboding as the film starts in a everyday home, as the haunting score by award winning Dario Marianelli sweeps in. The costumes are beautiful, and the image of Keira Knightley in her stunning green gown will probably never leave me.
There is a lot to see here, but the film’s short-comings are through no fault of the film makers who have created probably the perfect adaptation, but the source material. Ian McEwan’s novel of the same name is a beautifully written book, full of Latinate language and lush imagery. McEwan’s failure is to come up with not only an engaging story, but to flesh out the characters that could make the plot work. He failed on both counts. And so, ever so loyally, the novel is adapted to screen, and the exact same problems are translated there. There was not one unconvincing performance in the entire film; Keira Knightley and James McAvoy did all that they can, which was more than enough (and definitely Keira’s best performance since Pride & Prejudice) but the characters are somewhat mechanical. Characterisation is neglected; motivations are one dimensional; emotional engagement with the protagonists is a real effort.
The ending is technically tragic, and potentially upsetting, but you may sit there and wonder why you are not saddened by the ending. It is probably because you do not care, and the fault would not lay with you. When I left the cinema with my friend we looked at each other and we knew how we both felt – absolutely nothing. It was not a bad film, but it is so soulless. I did not feel sad, I did not feel happy, I did not care, I did not laugh, I did not cry. I felt absolutely nothing. All I know is that this film produced a fantastic score which certainly evokes emotions on its own, especially ‘Elegy For Dunkirk’.
Your enjoyment of this film wholly depends on what you look for in a film. Film critics have gone wild over this film, and it is of little wonder. Film critics who look for more than the entertainment factor (and sometimes do not consider it at all) in films notice other things that the mass audience probably just will not be interested in. The four minute scene spanning Robbie on the beach at Dunkirk probably bores most people, for the film critic the scene is endlessly interesting. I’d recommend this film to avid film goers who know a lot about cinema and its dynamics, or perhaps film students. For the person who wants to stay in on a Saturday night and be entertained this film probably is not for them, as on a fully engagement and entertainment criteria, this film is rather empty.