Atonement fails on almost every level. Michelle Alexandria’s EclipseMagazine.com Movie Review

atonement_bigposter.jpg

The trailer for Atonement had me giddy with excitement I thought I was going to be in for a truly epic love story that spanned time, distance, war, betrayal, but what I got was this anemic, pretentious, non-epic turd. I love Keira Knightley (Cecilia Tallis) but frankly she can’t act and it’s proven once again here. Her face looked strangely like it’s been CGI’ed. Her mouth moves but there’s no expression in her cheeks or eyes. It looks so plastic that it was creepy. And that’s a word I’ll be using a lot throughout this review – CREEPY. The entire experience of watching this film felt CREEPY. There’s the CREEPY friend of her brother, Leon Tallis (played by Patrick Kennedy), a wealthy owner of a Chocolate factory, Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch) who turns out to be a pedophile. Then there is Cecilia’s creepy looking 13 year old sister Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), and her visiting cousins, these two curly haired ugly looking kids and their older sister Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) who looked 11 or 12, but they strangely dressed her up to look older. Think Jon Bonnet Ramsey. 

Everything about this film felt off putting, but the film’s fatal mistake is that instead of focusing it on, you know the great love of the rich society girl Cecilia and her poor handyman Robbie (James McAvoy) who apparently went to college because Cecilia’s father paid for it. It would have been nice to have at least a little back story on Robbie’s relationship with the family. The first hour of the film is told almost entirely from the point of view of Briony.

We get very little build up or substance to the great romance, instead we get endless close-ups of Briony’s vacant face, or we see her talking about the play she wrote for her brother, or see her running through the fields. The one sister “bonding” moment is a shot of her and Cecilia lying in the field. This is where I say the film looks amazingly beautiful. But even that didn’t fit the dour tone of this piece. I realize these people are the super rich and live in a world that we don’t inhabit but it simply didn’t match the material. It should have looked grimy not sweepingly lush with gorgeous bright colors.

These people are supposedly super rich, but they are moving through life as though they are on Prozac and there’s no explanation or external conflict in the film that explains why these people seemed to be permanently depressed and lifeless. Director Joe Wright fails to give this film any sense of urgency or pacing.

atonement.jpg

After 50 minutes of meandering we finally get to the crux of the story when Robbie accidentally sends Cecilia a sexually explicit letter that gets intercepted by Briony things spiral out of control and Robbie ends up in prison. War comes to England and when next we see him, he’s hiking through France. We see very little combat action, just endless scenes of Robbie and his friends complaining about the hike. We get very little sense that Robbie misses Cecilia except for a scene of him writing to her. But it felt forced.

The film’s other fatal flaw is it’s excessive use of flashbacks that don’t really add anything to the story and often come out of the blue with no indication that you are watching a flashback. Its effect is jarring and creepy.

I’m generally a sucker for a good romantic drama and period piece this film combines both and fails on both accounts. For this film to work it really needed to spend time on building and establishing the relationship between Robbie and Cecilia, once it failed to do that it made the rest of the film fall flat and feel hollow. Not only did it not properly showcase the relationship but in the entire 2 hr run time we only see them on screen together for maybe 10 minutes and there’s absolutely no chemistry between McAvoy and Knightly.

And they end up showing us an old remorseful Briony but it came out of the blue, the only way for that cliché to work would be if they did a Titanic and started with an old Briony narrating the story. Instead it seemed as though it was tacked on. The movie’s final nail in the coffin comes from the incredibly bad ending where the Producers couldn’t figure out if they wanted to give the audience a sad ending (not even bittersweet) or a happy one, so they decide to give us BOTH.

The Producers of this film have a lot to atone for, starting with this dreary dreck.

Final Grade F

EM Review by
Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 12/07/07

46 thoughts on “Atonement fails on almost every level. Michelle Alexandria’s EclipseMagazine.com Movie Review”

  1. You hit the nail right on the head. I couldn’t agree more! A little surprising as I would figure most women would go for this kind of drivel.

  2. Of course, you are both wrong.

    “The movie’s final nail in the coffin comes from the incredibly bad ending where the Producers couldn’t figure out if they wanted to give the audience a sad ending (not even bittersweet) or a happy one, so they decide to give us BOTH.”

    Perhaps “it would have been nice” if the reviewer had “at least a little back story” on the story itself. It is a powerful adaption of a powerful novel. The ending was written by the *author* and is in no way “happy”. “Tacked on”?!? This is the final and most important part of the story…

    ***SPOILERS FOLLOW***

    …where we learn how Briony is trying to find “atonement” for her actions by writing the book we had just witnessed! The metafiction works. If they had started with the older Briony they would have lost half the twist!
    It was huge having the realisation dawn that all of the footage you have just watched was all Briony’s words/imagination..it must have been a torturous for Briony to actually write the novel..making up all the little details when all she had to go on were letters Robbie and Cecilia had written to each other.. knowing all along exactly what she’d done, what she’d put them through, living with the guilt and cowardice, the fact they’d both died!
    Having to even think – let alone write – about Robbie and Cecilia’s thoughts and feelings must have broken her heart a thousand times over. I was in pieces, and that’s just me, the viewer.. Imagine how Briony felt when writing about her sister who died hating her and heartbroken..or writing about Robbie’s plight trying to get home in France, of which she never actually witnessed! Knowing all along that they were both now dead and never got to reconcile..

    Its such a wonderful story because not only is it sad and tragic for Cecilia and Robbie, but for these reasons it is also tragic for Briony.

    ***SPOILERS FINISHED***

    Have you and and your editor considered career changes? And how anyone can describe this as ‘drivel’ is also beyond me. I really just hope it is because you have both been turned into robots by the majority of stuff Hollywood makes you watch. Creepy.

    Ben
    22, UK

  3. The one point I do agree with the Critic is that I feel they should have established the Cecilia and Robbie relationship. I did enjoy this film and I was very moved by the “twist” ending, but we never really felt their love for each other. Cecilia was very stoic and cold to Robbie until that final moment when they consummated in the library (which in and of itself was quite aggressive as opposed to tender and loving), so when I digested everything as the credits rolled, I realized that I would have been much more heartbroken if I had experienced a stronger, more established love between the two of them. And yes, Ms. Knightley does look like she has been over-botoxed, although I am sure she has not. But there is very little movement in her face and lack of expression. Sort of a frozen look most of the time. But all in all, I did enjoy this film, and the ending took me totally by surprise.

  4. I’m with Ben- the reviewer has obviously never read the book, which of course is not a prerequisite for enjoying a movie, but it would have helped so she might have managed to avoid the misguided comments about the ending. This is a wonderful adaptation of a brilliant and profound book, and will probably win Best Picture Oscar.

  5. Thank you, Ben! Critic: Quite simply, you need to read the book!! Especially since you review movies (which is a perfect adaptation of an awesome novel), you might want to try doing the research first next time.
    Having read the book myself, I do not believe the author intended this to be simply an epic romance (although that is part of it). And Briony is meant to have that dominating part at the beginning. Again, please read!

  6. The critic didn’t seem to be aware that there WAS a book. I don’t remember the substance of the trailer, but neither the book no the film had any pretensions to being an “epic love story” and was in fact not about Robbie and Cecilia, but about Robbie and Briony – not their relationship with one another, but the dramatic effect that Briony’s lie had on the rest of Robbie’s life and on his character, and on Briony’s ‘atonement’. If the elderly Briony had prefaced the story as well as ending it, and if it had been an epic love story, it really would have been on a par with Titanic. But a lot of people think Titanic sucked. You observe that the first half of the film is told almost entirely from Briony’s perspective, that we get endless close-ups of her face, that we hear about the play she is writing and see her running through the fields, etc. Doesn’t this tip you off that her perspective is significant, that in fact the whole film is about her perspective, and the device of perspective in fiction? Don’t blame the producers for the ambiguous ending, the producers who faithfully adapted an ending penned by Ian McEwan, an ending that was in fact a really cunning twist. Incidentally, Paul Marshall was meant to be creepy (as you note, he was a rapist), Lola Quincey was meant to be a precocious teen dressed as a chic adult (again, read the book), Cecilia was meant to be wooden and aristocratic, and believe it or not, according to the novel, she was even supposed to be unusual looking, with a long face and a flat chest. Robbie was not a handyman, you misspelled Jon Benet Ramsay, and finally, you didn’t complete the sentence including the phrase “instead of focussing it on, you know, the great love…” and really, I would have liked to know what your “instead of” scenario was. Maybe Robbie could drown in the Atlantic in the shadow of a sinking ocean liner, while Cecilia clings to a floating piece of furniture vowing to live, love and have babies, maybe her heart COULD go on… Also, it seems you’re looking for epic substance, great romance, sisterly bonding, AND “combat action”. Asking a bit much when you’ve failed notice masterful adaptation, sudden passion cut short by sisterly betrayal, class struggle, a gruelling yet sensitive evocation of Dunkirk and the futility of war and the price paid for great mistakes. If you’re going to be a critic, you needn’t read books, but try to be aware of them, otherwise it’s just embarrassing. Final grade F, sweetie.

    1. I’m only going to say this once, you should not have to READ A BOOK to enjoy a film!! They are two different mediums and each should stand on it’s own. I’m so sick and tired of people saying if you don’t like XYZ film then it’s somehow my fault because I didn’t read the damn book. No, it’s the filmmaker’s fault for not doing an adaptation that stands on it’s own terms. This goes not only for Atonement, but ANY filmed adaptation. I shouldn’t have to know the source material in and out to “get” the film. I got Atonement, I just despised it and reading the book would do nothing to change that opinion.

  7. Hey guys and gals, Does anyone realize that Miss Michelle Alexandria is the founder of this pathetic excuse for a magazine. That’s the ONLY reason she could possibly get a job as movie reviewer. You have absolutely no business reviewing movies especially upon going back and perusing what you liked in the past. YOU HAVE NO TASTE. You do NOT, btw, need to read Atonement to get it, adore it and know it WILL win Best Picture and MORE at the Oscars, etc.

    The film’s other fatal flaw is it’s excessive use of flashbacks that don’t really add anything to the story and often come out of the blue with no indication that you are watching a flashback.–Michelle wrote that, IS SHE AN IDIOT??? Why ask an obvious question? The flashbacks were remarkable, you’re probably just too inept to get it. Why don’t you go watch a movie you gave a good review on like Alien vs. Predator–what a moron!

    Also, she never even commented on the long, sweeping and emotional one-shot beach scene which is going to stand out in Cinematic History for it’s intense and all-together difficulty in shooting and brilliance in realization. WHAT A MOVIE AND WHAT A MORON FOR NOT GETTING IT!!!

    IT WASN’T ABOUT THEIR LOVE SO MUCH (WHICH ROBBIE EVEN STATES AT ONE POINT THAT IT’S ODD FOR THEIR LOVE ONLY REALLY CONSISTED OF 3.5 MIN OF SEX–HE STATED IT), IT WAS ABOUT HIS RUINED LIFE DUE TO A FOOLISH, BUT PROBABLE AND POSSIBLE CHILD AND THEIR/HER/ALL OF THEIR ATONEMENT–HENCE THE “HAPPY” ENDING AND THE SAD ENDING!!!!

    come on everyone who reads this, she likes The Game Plan with The Rock!!! Can anybody really trust what this bimbo has to say? Stick to reviewing B-movies for simpletons like you and leave the quality pictures to people who know what they’re talking about, Toots.

    Tim G.

  8. I have to agree with Michelle Alexandria 100%.

    The purpose of critiquing movies is to tell the average Joe if it is worth watching. Not to tell the people who read the book if it was good. I think if you read the book you know if the movie will be good or bad. Yes I understand the movie adaptation will be different, just deal with the fact that no movie adaptation can be good as the book.

    Just because this movie might win an Oscar doesn’t change the fact that I felt like I wasted my time. An average “simpleton” as timgrifjr would categorize me as, would understand that everybody has their own opinions and you cannot change their opinions even if you belittle them.

    So Mr. Pompous Prick, leave the woman alone and just comment on the movie not the critic. Leave it up to each individual to judge her opinions and not you.

  9. I agree with much of what Michelle says, although I wouldn’t give the film an F – maybe a C+. Atonement is very reminiscent of all those crowd-pleasing, stiffly charming Anna Neagle films and Vera Lyn hits of the 40s – with a bit of narrative hopping, raw language and zipless eroticism thrown in for contemporary sensibilities.

    One particular creep factor that I would mention is the marriage of the Marshalls. Why on earth would a rape victim (unwitting or otherwise) marry her own rapist, or vice versa? This is carelessly glided over in the film (though it may have been better explained in the book). Considering the premise of the film is that of a man unjustly accused of rape by a spurned, pubescent female, I found this lack of explanation for the Marshalls’ marriage disturbing in a gender political context – especially in view of the long, hard road that women have travelled to achieve rape-law reform.

    Also, Atonement is the sort of film that I am getting increasingly uncomfortable with – in the way it portrays war as a sacrificial altar that cleanses the sins of a generation. In these dangerously apocalyptic times, Britain is not the only society that needs to get over this masochistic cultural obsession.

  10. I have not read the book.

    I found the ending to be an unusual meditation on what our desires and expectations are as an audience.

    On the one hand, the “real” ending – that Robbie and Cecilia were never reunited and died tragically young, that Briony can never make amends for what she did – is too depressing to accept. On the other hand, the “happy” ending seems too formulaic, and by itself would leave me feeling like I had been lied to.

    So we get both endings, and a frank discussion about why we might want one or the other. And we get all this in something like 10 minutes. It’s the most concise and satisfying ending to a complex film I have seen in years.

  11. This movie should come with a disclaimer, “Due to under-developed on screen characters and dis-jointed scenes, it is recommended that viewers read the book first”. The rave reviews are mostly from the book fanclub who can subconsciously fill in the blanks in the screenplay.

    As someone who didn’t read the book, I left with the following impressions:
    1) The romance between the two main characters was so undeveloped as to not seem plausible and certainly not enough to get the average (non book read) viewer to care. During the first 45 minutes of the movie these two supposedly love struck characters actually interact on screen for maybe 5 minutes. Now, I’ve heard the “it was about Brione’s lie, not the romance dumba$$”. Bollocks, if one doesn’t care or believe in the love between Robbie and Cee, then who cares about the lie of a pretentious, fanciful little spoiled brat.

    2) The movie is full of scenes that offer no apparent value or relevance to the story. I’m sure there’s a whole background in the book, but if you didn’t read it, your just left to wonder, WTF? (e.g. the twin ‘cousins’ relationship with their sister, the school girl massacre in France, etc.)

    3) The time shifting in the screenplay comes across as a blatant attempt to misdirect the viewers attention to make akward room for the “twist”.

    4) The “twist” has very little “oooohhhhh” value since it’s pretty obvious that Robbie was a goner in France. The last 20 minute scene, where supposedly the two are reunited, had me thinking, ‘Brione is pathetic and Robbie is just angry (despite his apparent reunion)’. In that case, not too unique, who cares.

    5) The none too surprising twist revelation only reinforces the feeling that Brione is selfish and pathetic.

    6) Keira Knightley’a appearance in the film is more appropriate to a WWII concentration camp than a child of privilege in England.

    7) Every time James McAvoy was on screen I found myself thinking, Damn, “Last King of Scotland” was a good movie.

  12. 1) I think the shallow and odd nature of the Robbie – Cecilia romance works, given that it is supposed to be a reconstruction – reconstruction of a young girl’s memories by herself as an older woman. It is true that if you are not interested in Briony’s perspective, then the whole point of the film has passed you by. As it turns out, there is very little in the film that is not filtered through Briony.
    2) The random detail that seeps in to the film, apparently independent of Briony (but ultimately filtered through her perception) is also interestingly realistic. It reminded me a bit of Tolstoy, where one would hear bits of an argument between two charaters on a road while passing by them, but never find out anything more about the argument or the people having it. That’s reality, more or less.
    3) I am pretty sure the narrative time shifting correlates with pieces of Briony’s memory interacting with her adult reconstruction of events. I would need to study the film more closely to say for certain. Regardless, if the true intent were to misdirect, I think the time labels would have been omitted. I found the time frames pretty easy to keep straight.
    4) I don’t think the twist is supposed to surprise the viewer. The point, I would say, is not the discrepancy between the apparent “reality” of Robbie’s death in France and its contradiction in the imagined reunion that follows. The real point is our willingness or unwillingness to accept the contradiction. When we first see Robbie, miraculously alive, what do we think? Are we willing to accept where the narrative is taking us? On some level, I was willing to accept, in the moment, that Robbie had somehow survived. It made me happy to imagine he had survived, although on another level I still did not believe it to be true. I accepted the comforting lie because I wanted it to be true even though the film had made it pretty clear that it was not. It is the exploration of this tendency that made the end of the film so interesting to me.
    5) Indeed, Briony selfishly wants to undo the damage she has done, but can never truly do so. As viewers, do we also selfishly wish for the happy ending to make us feel good? Or are we unconvinced by the happy ending? If you had to choose between them, would you want truth or happiness?
    6) This comment is so absurd there is really nothing else to say about it.
    7) I liked “Last King of Scotland” too.

    Don’t go accusing me of reading the book. I haven’t.

  13. I read the book only a couple of months ago – my husband bought it for me a couple of years ago and for one reason and another I didn’t read it. I found the book amazing, although a little difficult to get into, as like the film, the young Briony is pretentious and annoying. After watching the film, which I thought was brilliant, I was left thinking that I was glad I had read the book as I would have found the film a tad confusing.

    If I pretend that i haven’t read the book, I have to say the film was left lacking. A lot of the film assumes knowledge that you could have only gleaned from the book.

    One thing I do find confusing is, if Briony was so niave to not understand what was happening between Robbie and her sister. How would she have known the word he wrote in his letter was so shocking!! Or perhaps I’m niave?

  14. I too felt slightly dismayed as the credits rolled. Until I read Michelle’s review, I assumed it was my own life and vision thrown of-track by recent turns of events that was responsible for my lack of pleasure – really depressing considering what a release I had built this up to be for myself in current circumstances…perhaps I had brought preconceptions of a cathartic The English Patient with me, as I my life had undergone a parallel rout at the time of that movie’s release.

    Instead, now I feel more comfortable with my irritation, not so much at Keira Knightly’s woodenness – as her spectacular figure and bearing translated the emotion her face would dare not bear – did anyone notice when her brother mentioned how long her stand-off had been going on with Robby? No, it was the actress playing Briony at 18 that stuck in my craw – not merely her performance, but her entire being as on screen annoyed me. I suppose her literary turns were meant to stand in for expression, and I tried to resign myself to the task of not staring at her mole, which seemed to have a life of it’s own (not quite Nanny McPhee…but…). But then, when Vanessa Redgrave took the screen I threw up my figurative hands – if this was indeed this character’s movie, as all the book-readers insist, I could have bettere endured the pointless war scenes if there had been a better dramatic counterpoint in Briony’s character throughout the film. The younger Briony’s hypnotic performance established a harmonic energy that dissipated in the middle of the film.

    I have not read the book. Perhaps there is a different flow of energy in the novel to send the adrenaline going again through the middle of the film- references to the field of dead schoolgirls being one – to which non-book readers would not be able to relate.
    As for the brevity of the romantic scenes, I blame the director and sound people. I’ve lived that life myself…there can be a great deal of unforgettable love expressed in such a short space of time…the poignant touching of hands beneath the table…even the commitment with which Robbie pursued the lost boys spoke of love and the bouyancy born of a windmill well tilted. I disliked the foley…and the jarring nature of the frequent dimuendos into absolute silence made for a rather uncomfortable movie watching experience; I found my expensive and rare treat of a bag of popcorn unshared with children going completely untouched – the silence in many parts of the movie was so deep and came on so abruptly that our theater audience quickly realized that any chewing whatsoever could be quite easily overheard thoughout the theater.

    As for one commentor’s puzzlement over the child-bride’s choice of her abuser as husband – oh come ON. The man was fabulously wealthy and well-connected – did you miss the encounter with HRH the Queen? And her circumstances were not exactly hopeful from a security standpoint. Gather that with the syndrome of denial/narcissistic funk that rules both sides of this type of abuse scenario and voila – it happens.

    As for James McEvoy’s performance, I loved his touches of self-deprecation. He showed a great depth and complexity given the limits of the script he was given – I got chilled at the contrast of the memory of his brilliant stride down the lane to dinner, against the image of his trudge through the orchard where a forthright quip to his despondent mate galvanized that man’s loyalty in an instant – the same Robbie, the steel in the spine still visible – different trail. A little more screen time showing him in a more interactive mode would have been welcome. And was it not frustrating to see a man with aspirations of a medical career take so little care for his own wound?

    Apologies for misspellings. I don’t know if it is this browser or this site, but spellcheck is not operational!

    ACD

  15. As a fan of the novel, I would give the movie only a B or so… some of the most brilliant, subtle prose simply can’t be translated into a film. Nevertheless, I think all value of the film went right over Ms. Alexandria’s head – and she’s right, I don’t think she’d appreciate the book, as she appears to only enjoy entertainment that is explicitly spelled out for her in Crayola. The novel and the movie are meant to make you thoughtful, not merely dismiss the issues because they’re ‘creepy.’ Of course the idea of a pedophilic family friend raping a girl and her decision to later to marry him would be disturbing. Rather than finding it as a setback in woman’s reform as one commenter suggested, one should be prompted to consider the psychological damage that would allow Lola to justify the rape in her mind. And the ending!… of course it was meant to appease the audience. Briony Tallis herself explains the reason she created the ending… it is her own way of atoning for her sins.

    I have no problem with someone disliking the film, but this review is really just pathetic in its arguments. This review is meant for someone who would moreso enjoy ‘epic love stories’ along the lines of Titanic – obvious, no pesky complexities, full of action so you didn’t have to hurt your head thinking too much.

    For those who haven’t seen the film, I recommend reading the novel first, much more so than with any other film/book combo I’ve come across. I think the film is much more difficult to appreciate without the book.

  16. I generally try not to reply to comments about my reviews, but I must say in some ways you are right in other ways wrong. You are right when you say I seem like someone who likes straightforward stories. I do. If I watch a film that makes me want to go out and learn more about the subject (or read the books) that it’s based on then it’s done it’s job – something like Elizabeth, JFK, The Great Debaters or La Vie Rose. I don’t trust movies to be accurate or honest, therefore, I don’t go to the movies to “learn” something or “think.” But I do like “complicated” books, so more than likely I would like the book better than the film. But I don’t see how this story is all that “complicated.” It’s pompous and pretentious, but it certainly isn’t complicated or “deep.” Saying a film is “complicated,” is just another way of saying – “I’m smarter than you, because I get this.” There are very few films that are “complicated,” just films that are so poorly written and executed that it makes you think it is. A well written film is “straight forward,” and “easy” to understand there are very few good/great films that are truly “complicated,” even a film like Memento or Syriana aren’t really all that “complicated,” just purposefully disjointed. For the record, I was the only critic at the time that HATED Titanic as well (now it’s popular to bash Titanic) – it has since grown on me on DVD. At the time Titanic was the great dividing line between my other reviewers and myself. Especially Sean who saw it 10 times at the time.

  17. The main problem with the story as portrayed in this film is that it is decidedly uncomplicated. Boy and Girl in simplistic and short lustful relationship separated by remorseful antagonist and circumstance… and oh yeah, they both died without ever getting back together. Compare this story / film to, say, Cold Mountain. In that case the love story made me a believer. The force separating them was powerful and meaningful, not petty or trite. The ending, while tragic, was fulfilling and complete.

  18. I had not read the book before seeing the movie. I too was dismayed at the lack of depth and reality to the supposed “love” between Robbie and Cecilia other than lust based on physical attraction. This lack of premise made the remainder of the movie hollow for me, leaving me to think simply, “What is all the fuss about?” This was further accentuated by the (what turned out to be) characterizations of Briony showing the “lovers” doing no more than kissing and proclaiming their love for each other at each imagined rendezvous. No character development offered between them was this film’s fatal flaw. I agree with the comment above that one shouldn’t have had to read the book prior to seeing the film. Any film should stand on its own. Clearly, this one didn’t. Now that the literary “twist” has been revealed to me, I don’t see the point to reading the book. Another unfortunate “glitch” in this movie, which, I admit, is probably personal to me, is that I couldn’t stomach the repeated line: “Come back to me.” All I could recall was the same line from Cold Mountain when Nicole Kidman spoke the same words with an unconvincing accent to Jude Law. It made me cringe in that movie, and it made me cringe in Atonement. I can say that Atonement was a visually arresting movie, and it could get awards for set design, costumes and cinematography. Vanessa Redgrave’s performance I found to be the only one worthy of remembrance.

  19. I’ve never read the book, (although I’m definitely going to now after seeing this incredible film) but I think you’ve missed the entire point of the movie when you complain that there’s too much Briony and not enough Cecilia and Robbie. The crux of the film is that it’s Briony’s story…she effectively destroys her sister’s relationship with Robbie and is thus forced to “atone” for her sins. Whether the Cecilia/Robbie relationship is underdeveloped is questionable. You have to remember that it’s Briony’s story, not theirs.
    And then there’s your “creepy” complaint. Well, not everything has to be all lovey dovey and spelled out for you in cinema. Sometimes there are brutal, confronting elements to films…that doesn’t make them any worse to any other. In fact, the challenging aspect of this film was one that I greatly enjoyed. As for criticising Saorise Ronan for having a creepy face…well, how ridiculous can you get? As a matter of fact, I found this young girl’s performance particularly impressive.
    The flashbacks? Well, apparently they’re in the novel, so if you want to complain about those, blame Ian McEwan. They’re there out of faithfulness. They might’ve been passed off as pretentious, but they seemed to enhance my understanding.
    Anyway, I adored this film, and I don’t really care if others disliked it. I feel that if you’ve missed it’s point…then you’re simply missing out on some damned good cinema.

  20. Now, see – this is purely of personal preference, but I like to feel good about a movie when I walk out of the theatre. This movie irritated me because of how unfair everything within it is…leaving the theatre, I had a bad feeling about the whole thing. I’m not saying films have to be lovey-dovey, because I’ve seen plenty of films that have sad endings and that I feel wonderful about.

    I feel that films are supposed to be ways to escape the horrors of the world (like war), and yet here is a film that shows us what we hear about and witness everyday. Again, this is my own taste, but what escape is there within a story about those same horros? This film is artsy, and that is why it will win awards. A relatively thin story that is dressed up with astounding visuals, good acting, and a deliberately disjointed narrative will look complicated. It speaks to political events and offers comments about society and people. But when a film is ALL ABOUT those things, it feels forced like it is simply there to win awards. Films are about STORIES, but this one is about the things that dress its story up.

  21. Having just seen the film today, the comments here have helped me understand why I walked out of the movie with a slight headache and a sense of dissatisfaction. Several things occur to me: the movie is rushed in places where it needs development. The director seems more interested in developing the Dunkirk scenes and the manic unreality of that event, when the rape is given micro seconds to sink in to the family, and there is no outrage or emotion connected with it. The coppers take Robbie away serenely and the family stands mute? It becomes a series of ‘snapshot’ moments that move plot but leave relationship and character development stagnant; the writer, hence the film, jumbles the potential motivation that Briony has for lying. We are never sure if she lied because a, she really thought it was Robbie, b, she was just a fanciful child who liked drama, or c, she was pissed at Robbie for jilting her after the river rescue. Had the writer substantially developed a clear motive, the idea of atonement would’ve had greater layer to it and the final scenes with her speaking would have evoked either pity or disgust in the viewer. But I felt nothing. Had she lied due to a mistake, pity for a dying old woman who wanted forgiveness would have found its way into my heart. Had she lied due to her own childish fancy, I could have extended the old woman some empathy and a bit of sorrow for her dying. Had she lied due to childish, petty scorn, I would have felt disgust for her. As it was, with no clear motive developed, I struggled to feel for her and thus the ending she gives the deserving couple fell flat for me. Had the movie ended with Briony admitting why she lied – and leaving it there – now that would’ve been a powerful ending.

  22. From the N.Y. Times:

    That pretty much describes the rest of “Atonement,” piously rendered by the screenwriter Christopher Hampton from Ian McEwan’s novel. This is not a bad literary adaptation; it is too handsomely shot and Britishly acted to warrant such strong condemnation. “Atonement” is, instead, an almost classical example of how pointless, how diminishing, the transmutation of literature into film can be. The respect that Mr. Wright and Mr. Hampton show to Mr. McEwan is no doubt gratifying to him, but it is fatal to their own project.

    Unlike Mr. Wright’s brisk, romantic film version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement” fails to be anything more than a decorous, heavily decorated and ultimately superficial reading of the book on which it is based. Mr. McEwan’s prose pulls you in immediately and drags you through an intricate, unsettling story, releasing you in a shaken, wrung-out state. The film, after a tantalizing start, sputters to a halt in a welter of grandiose imagery and hurtling montage.

  23. This movie is a piece of crap. I am talking about the movie not the book. I haven’t read it and neither saw any fine print that we should do it before watching this movie. I am not a critic but I can’t see what this movie is about. A love story? About the II World War? Upper and working class relationships in UK? Blame? Redemption? A documentary about a ‘real life’ writer? Nice costumes, reconstruction, views and landscapes from England? I don’t think we can say a movie it’s good because, with lots of money, the director did a great reconstruction of certain places or historical moments… like the first part in the beautiful landscapes of England or the 5 minutes of an epic or pompous (I would say bizarre-weird-artistically) reconstruction of the Dunkirk evacuation in the 2nd World War before the Germans arrive. I don’t think we can say that because the book was good than the movie it is too? Neither I can say that the movie is good because the movie was shot around beautiful places with great costumes and good photography? Movies are about stories and what is the story here? The less that I buy is the story between the couple. And if that is not solid, then the rest is just a piece of junk. This film is nothing but a mediocre piece of movie that managed to fool some critics with nice England landscapes, a II World War epic – weird- reconstruction and a “supposed” good book behind it to qualify it as great and provoke crowds to go to the theater. And to the people that says that it’s great adaptation of the book, good for you, but I didn’t see the disclaimer saying that we should read it before seen it. The movie alone should have all the elements to be understood without the need to read the book first. Don’t waste your money choose another one… C-

  24. I thought the movie was a bore. I didn’t feel any emotional connection between the two lead characters and found the use of the close-up camera tiresome. I didn’t read the book and agree with Michelle that one shouldn’t have to read a book to enjoy a movie. I’m not a movie critic but I know what I like and don’t like. I didn’t like this movie.

  25. If you actually pay attention to the film, it is mainly from Briony’s point of view as she is describing the events, not Robbie or Cecelia. Their characters may seem underdeveloped because it’s NOT their story.
    I saw this film twice and thought it brilliant in all aspects and I have read the book which I also thoroughly enjoyed.
    By the way Michelle, I’d like to see try and write a film as great as this one, and let everyone else criticize it.

  26. I think the bottom line is: if you’re invested in the book, you’ll think highly of the film; if not, you probably won’t. For those who think it’s “brilliant in all aspects,” is character development an important quality in a film?

    I understand that Briony’s memories constitute the depiction of the movie’s primary relationship. But how can you have any emotional connection with the sister and the boyfriend if their screen time together is limited to a few minutes, when the sister’s acting is wooden, and when the “love scene” that was supposedly the foundation of said relationship is a very unromantic quick bang? There’s zero chemistry between the two.

    I wonder if the book’s author used the same language for the secret note that fell into Bri’s hands? It just seemed a bit vulgar if you’re trying to portray the boyfriend as a desirable romantic protagonist. I mean, I would expect that language in a porn magazine, not an epic romance film.

    I agree with another poster that it would have been satisfying to know what Bri’s motives were, since the film went out of its way to inject the drown-rescue scene.

    I just didn’t care about any of these characters, but then I didn’t read the book, where some of these issues might have been addressed. I applaud the reviewer for not jumping on the critic bandwagon on this one and expressing a view many of us can empathize with.

  27. I think the trouble here is that some people are looking at this romance from our modern day perspective as opposed to romance in a time of war.

    One of the complaints here are that the romance never properly developed in the movie (or the book, for that matter). That is one of the points of the movie. It was a love affair that was frustrated at its outset and never became anything more than potential.

    In this modern day, perhaps we would expect Cecilia to move on at some point when Robbie went to prison. This is where the modern day differs to pre WW2 times. People waited back then. My own grandmother dated my grandfather only a couple of times during his two week leave from WW2 and when he left for New Guinea he didn’t return for three years, after which time they were married. It is hard to imagine that happening now.

    Added to this, Cecilia was no longer a virgin after the encounter in the library and in those aristocratic british times, this would pose a problem for her. It is logical that she would pin her hopes on Robbie’s return.

    I believe the fact that the relationship never developed was part of the point of the story. It was frustrated so early and existed only as potential in the imaginations of both people for so long that the fact the relationship never had a chance to be made real is one of the great tragedies in this movie.

    I loved the book and the movie, anyway. I’m getting sick of all those spoon-feeding, cliched american movies. I saw marie antoinette the other week and was absolutely appalled at the gall of an American director to trivialise such an important woman in France’s history. I mean, imagine if a French director trivialised the life of JKF or Martin Luthur King!

  28. 1) Why did Kira take the flowers to the fountain? She put them in a vase inside the house. Why take them outside? Was it an excuse to show her in her transparent outfit after she dived to recover the handle?
    2) If the story is told from Briony’s point of view, who tells the viewers the actual words of the scene in the fountain? The same scene is shown twice in case the viewers are so stupid that they need to confirm that the couple was flirting.
    3) Kira looks at the screen with lust and seduction before the wave kills her in the subway. No hint of fear or worry: just the same expression in her face along the whole film.
    4) Was it necessary to show the 3 actresses that play Briony’s
    along her life with the exact same hairdo just in case the viewers would fail to recognize her?
    5)There was no car chase, but the characters fast pace in some scenes reminded of the movies where the executives walk fast down the corridors of their offices in Manhattan followed by their subordinates.
    6) Atonement has nothing to envy to Hollywood’s high budget movies. Just another expensive and forgettable movie

  29. Dear haters (of the film, not the review. You’re cool):

    1) As David Simon says, “Fuck the average [viewer].” Art’s highest responsibility is to itself, and communicating what it’s made to communicate in the best way it can. In the case of this film, the jarring flashbacks and stunning cinematography depict a violent passion that runs beneath the characters’ stoic faces and mannered behavior. I’m sorry if it’s hard to understand, but this is the way it was in upper-class Victorian England.

    2) Listen, you don’t need to read the book. Just be aware that you are seeing something more complex than the usual. This complexity is necessary, turning a well-worn story into something unique and meaningful. The reason people are attacking you, Michelle, is because you’ve attacked something that has enriched their lives in some small way. Worse, you do this out of a basic ignorance, and you bluster your way through this deficiency with an uncommon spite. You know, Milan Kundera described this in Immortality (is it okay to reference a book here?). You’re the kind of woman who walks into a spa and says, loudly, “I hate baths! I only take showers!” It comes from an insecurity in your own life choices, and you need to put others down to make sense out of yourself.

    3) You’re off the mark on that love story assumption. I’d say this story is more in line with the kind of film The New World is, a film about many things which uses a love story to bring some themes out. This film is about passion and social mores and basic human connections, and what better way to test these themes than a tangled triangle of love, yearning and regret.

    4) No character development? The story is character driven! But their actions are subtle (refer to point 1). Instead of running out to the fountain and finding out what’s happened for herself, Briony skulks from the window and makes it up. This means something. Don’t you get it?

  30. There’s a difference between not liking or buying into something and not understanding it. This film isn’t COMPLICATED, it’s fairly simple and straightforward to understand. It’s just shallow and bad.

  31. Oh, what do we have here? this “shallow and bad” film just won The Golden Globe for best drama. While I have no problem with critics not liking a particular film, their reasons should be at least intelligent, not one of which Ms. Alexandria’s could be said to be.

  32. For someone who’s read the book AND seen the movie- I completely agree with this review!!!! I will never ever waste my money on this horrible movie again!

  33. This movie was horrible. Writing a novel, no matter how sad or remorseful you are, is not a way to atone for ruining two peoples life’s. That is the way a coward would atone for such acts. How sad and pathetic that someone could actually believe, that by writing a book where for the most part all interaction between the characters was imagined, is a gift. That is nothing more then a sad attempt to come to terms with actions that there can be no real atonement for. How arrogant of Briony to actually consider the writing of a book as a gift to C and Robbie. How disgusting. To those who enjoyed the film, I am glad you found a film that you like.

    Also, no matter how many times you say the word complicated that doesn’t make the movie complicated. It seems to me that those who enjoyed the film found it complicated and those who hated or disliked the film did not find it complicated. Now unless we are to assume that everyone who dislikes this film is a simpleton, I would hazard a guess that the film really isn’t that complicated. As of yet, no one who enjoyed the film has shown how it was complicated or revealed to me anything that I did not already understand. I believe that when people really enjoy a movie and others attack that movie, they use the word complicated to try and suggest maybe the dislikee isn’t smart enough to understand what happened. I have done it before, but just because you liked a movie doesn’t mean it was complicated. Atonement was not COMPLICATED, don’t insult our intelligence by trying to claim it was.

    To those whom it may concern,

    Personally attacking someone, with words or with actions, does nothing more then weaken your argument. Timgrifjr may have had some worthy things to say, but that is lost in his disrespectful and uncouth comments. If you want people to really consider the things you have to say, intelligently attack their arguments. This makes you look like you actually know what you are talking about, instead of someone who has poor vocabulary skills, and who angers easily.

  34. Kudos to Michelle for the honest and obviously well-argued review. I was excited to see this film given the trailer and the overwhelming number of positive reviews. I even remember seeing the synopsis of Michelle’s review on RT.com and wondering “Wow – what is wrong with that reviewer?” Then I saw the movie.

    Michelle got it right. It pains me this won “Best Drama” – I fear future acclaim-seeking movies will try duplicate its 2-hour Meatloaf Music Video “live-or-die by cinematography” style. Give Michelle’s words real thought – this is a braver review than the other dozen I’ve read today. I can tell how this review might personally offend a fan of the book who would want the story to succeed in any media, but the book was done an injustice by this production.

  35. Oh thank God!
    I was beginning to despair of finding any other critic out there who disliked this appalling mess of a movie. I didn’t like the book and only went to the movie because of friends’ high praise.

    Schlock. You have said everything so well.

    My review is at IMDB. I am sure I will be blistered for it……;>)

  36. THL said:
    _____

    To those whom it may concern,

    Personally attacking someone, with words or with actions, does nothing more then weaken your argument. Timgrifjr may have had some worthy things to say, but that is lost in his disrespectful and uncouth comments. If you want people to really consider the things you have to say, intelligently attack their arguments. This makes you look like you actually know what you are talking about, instead of someone who has poor vocabulary skills, and who angers easily.

    _____

    In other words, THL is saying that Timgrifjr’s arguments (which THL grants may be valid) are not credible because Timgrifjr sounds angry and has poor vocabulary. Does Timgrifjr’s vocabulary or emotional constitution have anything to do with the validity of his arguments? I think this post is pretty funny. Is this a joke?
    _____

    I’m not sure which of Michelle’s words we are supposed to “consider carefully”? Is her review so “complicated” that most of us don’t get it? Or is it just “shallow and bad”?

  37. I looked forward to seeing the movie and now that I have, I am telling people not to waste their money. I appreciate finding people here with similar views. I would like to add a few points, if I may.

    1.) To me, the “elephant in the room” about this film is that it seems to want the viewer to blame Briony as much as the film’s other characters blame her; that is, it wants us to think that Briony has reason to atone. In fact, she does not.

    The viewer never receives strong evidence throughout the course of the film that Briony willfully lied about Robbie. She is fairly portrayed as an innocent child who, because of circumstances, confusion and emotional turmoil, makes a predictable mistake. As the character states later in the film, it is only maturity that allows her to understand the consequences.

    If, as some writers here have claimed, the story is being told exclusively from Briony’s point of view, then we are seeing a film about self-blame and self-hatred, with Robbie and Cecelia’s characters acting as mouthpieces for the author’s feelings toward herself.

    What was missing for me in the end was a character in the movie to remind the audience that Briony was NOT guilty. I felt sad at the end of the movie because of the likelihood that a lot of people would walk out of the theater hating Briony and thinking that she really was at fault. If that is not what the director intended, then I think he slightly missed the mark.

    Aside from the fact that Briony is innocent by virtue of being a child, the viewer can’t even be sure that she actually changed the course of Robbie and Cecelia’s lives all that drastically. Four years after Robbie’s arrest, the war would have come and Robbie would have been in it, whether as a former prison inmate or as a doctor. The rest of Robbie and Cecelia’s story might have been the same or worse, regardless of Briony’s influence.

    It should have been made clearer to the audience that Briony did not have the power over their lives that she presumes she had. Otherwise, the audience is being guided to see her as the villain. I didn’t read the book, but I find it hard to believe that is what its author intended.

    Incidentally, I agree with the writer who said the 18-year-old Briony’s make-up was unattractive and made her hard to watch. Perhaps the director was trying to show that age and stress had diminished the charm of the 13-year-old; to me it only added to the possibility that fewer audience members would have sympathy for Briony in the end.

    2.) A major flaw that a lot of people have alluded to here is one that deserves as much emphasis as it can get — if you want the love story to be secondary, then don’t cast Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as the lovers! I went to the film primarily to see two beautiful, powerful movie stars “in love,” and I bet a lot of other people did, too. I was disappointed by how little we got to see them onscreen.

    3.) My interpretation of the rape scene was that it wasn’t exactly a rape scene. Although the chocolatier is definitely creepy and pedophilic, Lola is shown feeling attracted to him in the scene of their first meeting and at the dinner table. I saw the scene in the woods as “consensual” (not by today’s standards), which is why Lola didn’t want the perpetrator’s identity known.

    4.) The Dunkirk scene was beautiful. And irrelevant. The director should have saved it for a different movie.

    5.) I love Vanessa Redgrave, but sticking her in at the end like that was anachronistic and disruptive to the mood of the film.

  38. I think *aggie* raised a good point about Briony’s guilt or innocence. Keeping in mind that all the characters are her own creation, the fact that none of them have much sympathy for Briony is interesting.

    As this thread shows, few of the film’s viewers have any sympathy for her either. An interesting effect, given that Briony herself is more or less in control of the narrative. It seems strange, yet very human, that a person who can express so much compassion – for her sister, for Robbie, even for the readers of her book – can find so little for herself.

    By her own account, Briony was both the product and the instrument of an unjust society. Aristocratic prejudice not only allowed her lie to condemn a man of lower class than herself, but it also prejudiced her in her certainty that Robbie was the rapist.

    The narrative (Briony’s own creation) underscores the moment of her sin. There is no doubt that she has crossed the line when she testifies that she saw Robbie, not merely that she thinks it was him. The young Briony who lies knows she is lying and knows she has done wrong.

    We might wish for someone to point out that a lie by a young girl, in the absence of any other proof, should not send an innocent man to jail. (If we consider that to be the measure of a just society, I wonder how well our own would hold up, but that’s a digression.)

    I think Briony deprives herself of an advocate because she is ashamed. If the lie were not so telling, if it did not show, in microcosm, the very same aristocratic snobbery that sends Robbie to jail, then perhaps Briony could find some compassion for herself. But then, we would not have the same story at all.

    So what is Briony really trying to accomplish? She puts an enormous effort into reconstructing the story of Robbie, Cecilia, and herself. Why? The effort itself is, in my view, the ultimate statement of her heroism. It is the only act of creation that she is capable of. Given the historical context (WWII France) I think Briony is an existential heroine. She is relentless in her *examination* of herself and the world in which she has lived. She in *unblinking* in the face of her own deepest flaws. I believe that is the point of all the close-ups in the film.

    Yet the ultimate achievement of an existential hero embroiled in this world of shit and heartbreak must be to create something that is not merely timeless but also beautiful. Perhaps the Dunkirk scene accomplishes that. Yet it is clear that the average viewer (or at least the average viewer who posts here) is not struck by the beauty of Briony’s creation. And, in that way, our failure becomes hers.

  39. Yet, this failure is inevitable, because our focus is not on the creation, but on the creator. We can imagine the “book inside the book”. We even get to see a lot of it – enough to know it is beautiful and sweeping. It no doubt has all the satifying love scenes and thrilling battles that we would want. Yet that story is ultimately beside the point – so much so that the end is dropped as irrelevant. And throughout, we are refocussed instead on the creator – Briony.

    I think the crux of the ending really contrasts Briony’s act of creation with the confessional and existential motives that drive her. The purest confessional standards – and the most rigorous existential motives – would require Briony to give the story an unhappy – but “true” – ending. Yet, she is willing to sacrifice her own need for confession out of consideration for her audience. So we come full circle – the story starts and ends with two of Briony’s lies. And if we compare her motives for each lie, we see the difference between a conceited girl and a compassionate woman.

  40. Ben, Ian, Emily, etc. etc. –

    I’m totally unbiased because I’ve never seen the movie nor read the book. I’m going to go ahead and defend the reviewer though. What the heck does it matter if there’s a book and/or this is an adaptation? A good filmmaker would be able to achieve the desired result without the viewers ever having read the book first!

  41. A girl who lost sexually all control after getting a pornographic message. (Don't try it at home, boys.)
    A smart, honest girl who destroys the life of her beloved sister.
    The sister who has not a talk with her sister to explain that her view of her lover is wrong.
    The smart, honest girl waits until she is very old to tell te truth.
    A other girl who likes it when a strange man hiss 'Bite it!!!' to her while eating chocolate, and marries that man after he rapes her.
    A man who want to became a doctor but when he has a wound on his breast, touch it with dirty fingers and gets sepsis.
    A writer can do anything with his personages, but i don't 'bite'. There are limits. Even in film.

  42. I appreciated Michelle Alexandria’s review of Inception, and googled her hoping to read more of her reviews. It’s been a while since I saw Atonement, but found myself nodding in agreement again. It’s refreshing to read reviews from such an original and critical thinker, and disturbing to read the slew of ignorant and sexist comments following her Inception piece. Please, Ms Alexandria, write some more.

  43. Refreshing to read reviews from such an original and critical thinker. I appreciated Michelle Alexandria’s review of Inception, and googled to find more of her reviews. It was disturbing to read the slew of ignorant and sexist “commentary” following her Inception review. It’s been a while since I saw Atonement, but her review resonated just the same with what I do recall.

Comments are closed.