Monday, January 07, 2008


The Verdict: Passable, if predictable tear-jerker, with one outstanding performance. (Not Ikea Knightley).

The Rating: 6/10

What's that? Surprised that PCMR took in a romantic period drama? Well, every now and again, one of these movies comes along that achieves a certain level of omnipresence, making it increasingly difficult to avoid. However, the straw that broke the camel's back for me was surely the golden globe nomination for Ikea Knightley (Tip o' the hat to Mark Kermode for that joke – Ed). Curious at this decidedly queer turn of events, I thought it wise to investigate.

Right, so movies like 'Atonement' require a certain amount of suspension of disbelief from audience members like me. More, say than from proper fans of the romantic tear-jerker genre, so my views may be tempered by a degree of reticence towards, for example, an upper-class 1930's English countryside setting. Or, say, posh kids who say words like ra-ther, with the emphasis on the 'ther'.

Ok, this taken on board, 'Atonement' is the story of Cecelia (Ikea) and Robbie (James MacAvoy). Cecelia (or 'Cee' to her chums) is a toff, and Robbie is an orphan rapscallion, taken in by Cee's benevolent Father and happily given a splendid education, but he's still a bit rough around the edges you see, sort of a rough diamond type of fellow. The story of these two is initially told from the perspective of Cee's younger sister Briony, who is 'somewhat fanciful', and fond of writing stories. Now, Cee and Robbie totally fancy each other right from the off, and unusually for the British period drama, their love is 100% requited.

Yep, this pair actually get together, but almost instantly after their first clinch, the movie's potential for drama shifts from the unrequited love scenario to the tragic separation scenario. I'm not sure if the awareness of this fact will spoil the movie for the target audience, because most of them will watch Atonement mainly to have a good little cry. (... not that there's anything wrong with that. - Ed)

That aside, Knightley and MacAvoy are quite good, but really only have straight-forward enough romantic roles to tackle (Passion, tragedy, that sort of meat and two veg stuff). The real star of the movie is Romola Garai, who plays the 18-year-old Briony. She is believable as the repentant, sorrowful sister hoping for redemption for a mistake she made as a child.

The celebrated long Dunkirk beach shot (which you may or may not have heard of) is impressive, but these shots usually just make me feel like the director is showing off. For example, 'Snake Eyes' had a 15 minute opening shot, which was certainly impressive, but Da Palma couldn't make the rest of the movie any good. In Atonement, the long expansive shot of the beach didn't make me feel like I was there, and didn't shock me as to the horrors of war. Nope, it only served to make me more conscious that I was watching a movie. Bad thing for me.

The first hour is enjoyable, the second less so. If you like this sort of thing, you'll probably cry a little, but I don't think Atonement will stand the test of time as a classic by any means. Knightley didn't do enough to warrant a Golden Globe gong for me, but admittedly she did look great, and wasn’t quite as annoying as in some of her previous movies. MacAvoy didn't do himself any harm, but Garai was great. This isn't my favourite genre, but I'm pretty sure that romantic period dramas have more to offer than Atonement.

1 comment:

patrick said...

Atonement was a decent flick; it looked and felt a lot like Pride and Prejudice... come to think of it, both movies have the same director, leading lady, both are based on books and both take place in England

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