After helming 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, director Joe Wright has taken the reins of another adapted British love story in Atonement. Atonement is an absolutely marvelous screenplay executed to near perfection. The first half of the film is exceptional; it tests the audience and tells the story from two conflicting vantage points. The second half swirls around a world of war and lost love. While its latter portion doesn’t cause the soul to burn for as much love as the characters warrant, Atonement still tells a fantastic tale.
In 1935, England is close to war. Unaffected by the approaching hostility is the Tallis household. Nevertheless, sisters Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Briony (Saoirse Ronan), as well as Robbie (James McAvoy), the educated son of the family’s servant, are on the threshold of suffering their own inner turmoil.
As Briony observes a series of events unfold in a manner that conflicts with the truth, she unjustly declares Robbie a miscreant. Unable to shadow what she believes to be true, Briony accuses Robbie of a crime he did not commit. This action separates the love between Cecilia and Robbie and spirals all three characters into a world of misery and resentment.
In relation to the plot, the word “atonement” is defined as “amends or reparation made for an injury or wrong; expiation; or, the bringing together of two who have been enemies into a relationship of peace and friendship." How the film arrives at achieving atonement is striking. Even so, revelations aside, the relationship in the balance is foremost.
At the center of the long-distance romance, Keira Knightley steps out of her usual girl-on-the-brink-of-being-a-woman role and takes on the part of a sophisticated lady. James McAvoy is invigorating as Robbie; his intensity is contagious. In a scene where he screams after realizing his error, Robbie becomes convincingly strong. Together, Knightley and McAvoy create a memorable love-making scene against the leather-bound books of the house library.
Without question, Seamus McGarvey and Dario Marianelli should receive nominations for their work on the cinematography and score respectively. McGarvey’s four and a half minute unbroken take on the Dunkirk beach is spectacular; the camera dauntingly pans Robbie, hundreds of soldiers, and a choir with smooth certainty. In addition, Marianelli’s score, stressing typewriter strokes and piano plucks, is one of the most memorable in recent history.
The only stroke on the minus side of the scale is that Atonement lacks that one painstakingly intense romantic scene. For instance, in The Bridges of Madison County, when Clint Eastwood's character is standing outside in the rain, it forces viewers to feel. In Casablanca, when the plane taxis the runway, audiences yearn for Rick and Ilsa’s togetherness, but understand their separation. With Atonement, you sympathize with the characters’ love, but miss out on that one pressing instance of tear-inducing or heart-melting expression. Seriously, Atonement is one poignant scene away from being a romantic masterpiece.
All in all, Atonement is one of the best motion pictures to reach theaters during the seventh year of the new millennium. It’s a telling tale of the prevention of love and the longing for happiness. Without rhymes, embellishments, or adjectives, Atonement ultimately satisfies and expiates its inability to make the heart ache exponentially.