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.
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
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
Originally Posted 12/07/07