Sunday, September 09, 2007

ATONEMENT - showy and weighty where it should have been slippery and elegant

ATONEMENT is handsomely designed and photographed film. But the design is so insistent as to be distracting. The classic example is the much-praised 5 minutes tracking shot of Dunkirk, which looks stunning, but advances the film not one jot. Another example is the incredibly obvious and self-conscious sound design that incorporates typewriter keys into the orchestral score. The worst example is a scene in a tea-room that Joe Wright directs as a pastiche of BRIEF ENCOUNTERS. And here we come to the heart of my criticism of ATONEMENT - Keira Knightley's mediocre performance in the central role. If it is possible, her accent becomes even more strangulated than usual - standing in sharp contrast with the more natural cadences of Benedict Cumberbatch, Saoirse Ronan et al. The limits to Knightley's range are most clearly shown in a scene between herself, James McAvoy, Romola Garai. Garai in particular, and McAvoy to a lesser extent, act her off the screen.

So what is left to like? A very impressive supporting cast, including Brenda Blethyn, Gina McKee and I thought I detected a cameo by Tobias Menzies? Most importantly, Ian McEwan's intelligent and genuinely affecting story is left almost untouched by Christopher Hampton's faithful script. I won't give a synopsis because I think it's important that you see the key events fresh in the cinema and unaffected by reviewer's interpretations. This goes to the heart of the story. Suffice to say that this is a movie about class difference, thwarted love, misperceptions, a lifetime of regret and the impossibility of narrative.

Apparently, some reviewers have hailed ATONEMENT as an "instant classic". Let's be clear. It's no FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. Nor is it BRIEF ENCOUNTERS. It is a well put-together if highly self-conscious WW2 drama in which a better than usual script offsets a weaker than usual leading lady. As such, it justifies a viewing but not hysteria.

ATONEMENT played Venice 2007 and is currently on release in the UK. It opens in Italy and Finland later in September and in Turkey in October. It opens in Argentina, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Norway and Sweden in November. It opens in the US, Singapore, Slovakia and Australia in December and in Belgium, France, Denmark and Spain in January 2008. It finally rolls into Mexico in March.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with a lot of your points. The 5 minute Dunkirk sequence was too showy and I think it really cramped the pacing of the film. I just kept wondering when the scene would end.

    Also, I think Hamptom's screenplay is average. I haven't read the novel but from what I've read it seems to have much more depth to it. The "romance" between Robbie and Cecilia just isn't there and seems to happen out of nowhere.

    Supporters of the book say that it is explained much more in the novel whereas the film kind of skimps over the fact that Robbie and Cecilia are ALREADY in love. The film shows their relationship as one of indifference on part of Cecelia.

    A good film but like you say, definitely not an instant classic.