Dubby’s dvdiscussion: Seeking to atone


Golden Globe winning film for Best Picture, Atonement like some Great Russian novels is about a singular act of viciousness and the attempt to find redemption. The road between act and redemption is atonement. Here is a movie that is masterful in almost every respect.

For example director Joe Wright takes us from an idyllic British country house into the ravages of battle and never has battle been so surrealistically evoked.

Adapted from Ian McEwan’s novel, this dark piece has betrayal, loneliness, death and an attempt to come to terms with the darkness inherent in all of us.

Says critic Kit Bowen, “Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), a 13-year-old fledgling writer, lives with her wealthy family in their enormous English country mansion, and on one hot summer day, she irrevocably changes the course of three lives, including her own. It seems the housekeeper’s son, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), carries a torch for Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley). And on this warm day in 1935, it becomes clear she feels the same way; their love ignites. Little Briony, who harbours her own secret crush on Robbie, witnesses the beginning of this love affair, and not understanding its meaning, feels compelled to interfere, going so far as accusing Robbie of a crime he did not commit. He is arrested and whisked away, eventually forced into the British army, but thankfully, the two lovers have a moment before he goes to war to reconnect. Cecilia promises to wait for him, urging him to “come back” to her once the madness he is about to become immersed in is over. Meanwhile, Briony (played in adult years by Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave) has grown up regretting every single moment of that fateful day, and is desperately trying to seek forgiveness, finally finds a path to understanding the power of enduring love.

The performances in Atonement are nothing less than captivating, beginning with the young Irish rose Saoirse Ronan (who is also set to play the lead in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones). From the moment you see Ronan’s pale face, clear-blue eyes and steadfast gait, you immediately recognise Briony’s need and determination to make everything in her life just so. Indeed, Briony is a strongly focused child, and Ronan so embodies the character, an Oscar nomination is almost a certainty. As the 18-year-old Briony, Garai (Dirty Dancing 2) does the best she can, following such a tough act, as Ronan, but can never quite match the same intensity. On the other hand, Redgrave, who comes in at the very end as the much older Briony, nails it right away, adding her own nuances to a character who has lived a full life. Of course, Knightley and McAvoy are no slouches either, vividly capturing the passion bubbling up between Cecilia and Robbie, then turning around and showing the heartache as their love is ripped apart. McAvoy is particularly effecting, as his Robbie must also witness some truly horrific wartime scenes. Actually, Oscar nods should come fast and furious for everyone in Atonement.

With Pride & Prejudice and now Atonement, director Joe Wright may have just established himself as the new James Ivory (of Merchant/Ivory fame). Wright is a real visionary for the romantic period piece, expertly delivering truly spectacular vistas. From set design to costumes to cinematography, the look of Atonement is at once verdant, welcoming and then startlingly grim. This is a film Academy voters eat up with a silver spoon. Expect to be hearing about it in the months to come.”