I haven't read Ian McEwan's 2002 book on which Atonement is based, so speaking from a strictly cinematic standpoint, Atonement is a stunning work of film.
I haven't read Ian McEwan's 2002 book on which Atonement is based, so speaking from a strictly cinematic standpoint, Atonement is a stunning work of film. The story is told efficiently and with an eye toward capturing both the romantic beauty of the English countryside as well as the frightening cruelties of war. The winning combination of a tight script and brilliant direction by Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) pretty much makes everything else fall into place. The device of shuttling back and forth in time keeps things interesting, piquing our interest as to cause and effect (i.e. if this happens in the future, what happened in the past to cause it?). The performances are solid — particularly James McAvoy's, but mostly on the part of the women playing Briony at various stages in her life — though the actors most likely benefited greatly from such assured direction.
The story spans several decades, beginning in 1935 at the posh estate where Cecilia's (Keira Knightley) family lives and where the son of the housekeeper, Robbie (McAvoy), while still slightly removed because of his class, has mostly become a part of the family. Just as he and Cecilia begin to act on their attraction toward one another, Cecilia's young sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan as the young Briony) accuses Robbie of a heinous crime he did not commit, and he is sent away. Choosing military service instead of prison, Robbie is serves in World War II, and though he and Cecilia continue to love each other, their lives are never quite the same. As for Briony, the guilt of her mistake haunts her throughout her life, though she tries to achieve atonement through her writing. That's just the plot, though, so read more