One moment can change everything that comes thereafter. Director Joe Wright’s ‘Atonement’ is an exciting, evocative study of the events surrounding such a moment.
The story is one of a family. Briony and Cecilia Tallis are sisters living on an English estate, in the time between World Wars I and II. Robbie Turner is a classmate of Cecilia’s, but also the housekeeper’s son. When the wrong draft of a love letter by Robbie is given to Cecilia, young Briony misunderstands the intent as well as several events that occur shortly afterward. The film then jumps ahead several years to show the fall-out of Briony’s doings.
The film is almost perfectly split into two, one-hour stories. The first one is of the day of the misunderstanding at the estate. The seconds follows the fall-out. One of these is immensely more interesting than the other.
The acting by James McAvoy and Brenda Blethyn is very good, while Saoirse Ronan’s performance as 13 year-old Briony Tallis is excellent and incredibly unnerving. Keira Knightly continues her streak of un-emotive performances, but does show a little more life than is usual for her.
From the outset, Wright creates an eerie tension at the Tallis household, where everyone is gathering for dinner. Through his simplistic, yet highly effective framing, to the exciting score (orchestra with type writer,) the first hour is a study of moments. Of actions and reactions. It is a brilliant and exciting example of storytelling. Wright also shows several events from different perspectives, allowing the audience to see all sides of a conversation. It is this type of storytelling that is so exciting with this type of story. Unfortunately, this pace cannot keep up.
The second half of the story jumps around too much for any real effectiveness, and any connections that Wright carefully made and exploited in the first half are rather wasted.
My advice? Walk out after the first hour; you won’t miss much and what you do see will leave you exhilarated.- Sam