Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Come Back. Come Back To Me.

Oh, what a nice surprise it is to see Brenda Belthyn turn up in a film unexpectedly. I had no idea she was in Atonement, and when I saw her in the kitchen so early in the film I nearly wet myself. Sadly, her role was tiny. Sadly.

Atonement, director Joe Wright's second collaboration with Keira Knightley after Pride And Prejudice, is based on the best-selling and acclaimed novel of the same name by Ian McEwan. Set in the lead up to and then during the second world war, it is ultimately the story of Cecilia (Knightley), a young and beautiful daughter of a wealthy family, and her interrupted love affair with Robbie (James McAvoy), the son of a servant who died and has been almost adopted by Cecilia's family. All of this is told through the eyes of Cecilia's younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan in her younger incarnation, Romola Garai later in the film), the person responsible for the destruction of their relationship.

I must say, this dress is pretty stunning.

Briony has written a play, planning on premiering it the night she finishes using her cousins as the cast to celebrate the visit of her brother Leon (Patrick Kennedy), who is bringing with him his eligible friend Paul (Benedict Cumberbatch.) Cecilia and Robbie, meanwhile, have had a fight over a vase and are not speaking. Robbie writes a number of drafts of a letter of apology, and unfortunately puts the wrong one, a horribly crude version, in the envelope he gives to Briony to run ahead with. Upon reading it, Cecilia professes her love for Robbie, but they are interrupted in flagrante by Briony. Shortly after it is discovered their twin cousins have gone missing, apparently attempting to run away back to their parents.

All go out to search for the two in the dark, where Briony witnesses an apparent sexual attack on her remaining cousin, Lola (and is this name a reference to Nabokov's Lolita?), and as she had read Robbie's sexually explicit letter prior to delivering it to Cecilia, she convinces herself it was Robbie, whom she is in love with and angry at for spurning her. So starts the true drama in the film, with Robbie being sent off to prison and accepting an early release in return for fighting against the Nazis on the continent. Cecilia has disowned her family as soon as she could and is now working as a nurse, writing back and forth with Robbie whenever she can. Briony, perhaps as penance, also signs up to nursing school when she turns eighteen, and whilst in London seeks out Cecilia to apologise, realising what an egregious error she has made and how terribly she has treated her sister and Robbie.

I'm not a Knightley hater, but nor am I a lover, and I think she is fine here, not great, not bad, just... well, I think like Clooney, I struggle to see past Keira Knightley. Ronan is fantastic, and I have the time of day any time for McAvoy - I think he is incredibly underrated and such an extraordinary actor. Redgrave, playing the old Briony right at the end of the film, is powerful in her short time on screen, and Blethyn, despite hardly appearing, is fabulous as always. The movie is so well written, is founded in such an amazing screenplay, that it would be hard, I think, not to perform well within its bounds. 

The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is nothing short of magical. The film looks incredible (helped by terrific production and especially costume design), and some of the feats achieved (such as that oft-cited long tracking shot through Dunkirk) are breathtaking. Almost all of the elements combine well to add to the power and beauty of the film without ever becoming a dominant force. But I do say 'almost' very deliberately. The score. The score often killed me. The inclusion of the initially diegetic typewriter as a recurring theme made me want to claw out my eyes. It was so distracting, I kept finding myself thinking about how irritating it was when I should have been immersed in the film. It totally drew me out of whatever frame of mind I was in. And it kept coming back! There were a few other diegetic elements incorporated, and after the typewriter clack I very much noticed every single one. It was eternally frustrating, and will forever taint my memory of a film that otherwise might have gone down as a memorable favourite from the last decade. But I just can't get that typewriter out of my head, every time I think of any scene or moment in the film. Clack. Clack. SHUT UP! Shame on you, Dario Marianelli. It might have been ok if used once, but all the way through was deadly. And to think it won him an Oscar. ARGH! Of course, if they hadn't been such pricks about Johnny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood score, this never would have happened. But I digress.

Despite the music, the rest of it was magnificent, magnificent enough to get 4 stars.

1 comment:

  1. I think that the two things that ruined this movie were Keira Knightely, who just never has deep and expressive performances and this movie needed a larger-than-life one, and the director who just didn't put magic into it, although with this story this could've been a heartbreaking masterpiece. James McAvoy is one of my favourite British actors, and I agree that he's underrated.