Saturday, 18 January 2014

Atonement (2007) - ★★★★★

Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Ian McEwan (novel), Christopher Hampton (screenplay)
Stars: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Juno Temple, Benedict Cumberbatch

Atonement is one of the most exquisite films I've ever seen. Its style and beauty is reminiscent of classic cinematic masterpieces, such as Gone With the Wind (1939) and Days of Heaven (1978). Yet it has a unique modern element that puts it in a league of its own. Seamus McGarvey's masterful cinematography deserves to be hailed as one of the greatest in cinematic history, whilst the haunting score by Dario Marianelli takes us to an unforgettable time in history, and heightens all the emotion that comes with the story and surroundings. Technically, Atonement is truly perfect. As for the story, performances, and overall effect the movie had on me personally, I say that it was equally as perfect.

The story begins in 1935, set in a beautiful manor in England. 13-year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) witnesses a series of sexual events between her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley), and a servant Robbie (James McAvoy). She forms the wrong idea about Robbie, and accuses him of a heinous crime, thus causing a rift in both his and Cecilia's life. As years pass and WWII arises, we see that not all wrongs can be righted.

Every single scene in Atonement is breathtakingly beautiful. Honestly, I was just stunned at the intricacy of it all. The visuals alone tell a story, such as the bustling streets of early WWII London, to the large, quiet house where Briony spends her time writing. Everyone talks about the scene where Knightley emerges from the fountain in a see-through undergarment, which really is an unforgettable moment in cinema. But to me, the greatest, most unforgettable and absolutely masterful scene was during the epic sequence of the evacuation of Dunkirk beach. That scene alone convinced me that this movie was one of a kind. I haven't seen a sequence that grand in scale, that intricate, and that moving in a very long time. It reminded me of the effort director's used to put into their cinematography back in the 1930s and 1950s. So much time, money, and planning would have gone into creating that one sequence. It payed off, because I'd rank it up there with the greatest scenes of all time.

The evacuation of Dunkirk sequence. 
I was most surprised at how much of an emotional roller-coaster this movie was. The beauty of the opening sequences left me feeling elated and in awe of it all. Then as the story developed, I felt a furious rage and terrible frustration. Time healed those old wounds, as I started to become extremely upset and interested due to WWII arising, creating such uncertainty for the future. Atonement is a story that just keeps on giving. It leaves you invested in the outcomes of the characters, regardless of whether you like or dislike them. So by the time you reach the finish, and finally get the answers you've been looking for... well, I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen Atonement. Let's just say, I was left feeling some of the strongest emotions I've ever felt whilst watching a film.

They couldn't have gotten a better cast for Atonement. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy were just gorgeous together, whilst Saoirse Ronan was the shining star of the first half of the film. The romance just worked so well because of the charming, kind, gentleman like ways of McAvoy (despite his lapse of better judgment in writing that raunchy letter). It's hard not to fall in love with his character, let's put it that way. As for Knightley, this role wasn't as much of a stretch for her. All she had to do was act like herself, in the image of this character, and make us feel something. Well she made me feel for her, posh ways and all. As for Saoirse, I wholeheartedly think she earned her Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress. She outacted everyone in the film, giving a stunning performance as a 13-year-old who has both the intelligence of an academic, but the naivety of a child. I might also mention that Romola Garai, who played Briony at 18 years of age, gave one of the best performances of the film.

Dario Marianelli... that man is a musical genius. His score for Pride & Prejudice (2005) is easily one of the most beautiful ever composed for a film. I adored his Russian inspired score for Anna Karenina (2012) too. A part of me can't help but feel that the score for Atonement is his ultimate masterpiece. In most films, there is maybe one or two compositions that are memorable. In Atonement, every single piece composed by Marianelli is spine-chillingly beautiful. My favourite is by far the "Elegy for Dunkirk," which also features vocals by a choir of soldiers. I also adore his pieces, "The Cottage of the Beach," "Briony," and "Farewell." If you need to hear at least one score from this magnificent film, it would be "Denouement." This whole soundtrack has the life, soul, and emotion of the incredible story and film. It so deserved its Oscar for Best Original Score. Give a listen to the video below.

As the score is Marianelli's career masterpiece, I do believe that Atonement is the film Joe Wright will always be remembered for. There's no doubt in my mind that this is one of the Top 10 best films of the last decade. In fact, there's no doubt in my mind that Atonement is one of the greatest movies ever made. Every single component of the film was perfect to me. The story, the performances, the music, the cinematography... everything hit all the right notes and gelled into a grand masterpiece for the ages. I've just finished seeing Atonement, yet I feel as though I could watch it again, right now.

1 comment:

  1. Good review Ben. Such a beautiful movie. Not just in looks, but the story itself and how Wright captures what it's like to feel guilt, and realize that lives can change very drastically after one mistake made in life.