Should one judge a film based on its
overall effect, or should one take into consideration how said
film makes one feel as one watches it? Such is the dilemma that
I face in forming an opinion on Atonement, a strange
motion picture that, for better or for worse, reaches a
crescendo of near-mastery in its final minutes. The rest of the
movie, however, proves rather troubling. Despite always
impressing the viewer due to its stunning technical competency,
Atonement can’t help but feel as though it’s three
different pictures when one watches it. Each of its three acts
take on radically different styles and tones from one another.
But, seemingly out of nowhere, the film concludes with an ending
so perfect that it is provided an unmistakable sense of unity,
one that I suspect will play to its favor with each succeeding
viewing. Still, whether or not this proves Atonement
worthy of lavish praise, I’m not exactly sure. I know that I
like the film—and that I will probably like it more the next
time I see it—but I still question whether or not I should
completely disregard the clunky instability that it seems to be
plagued by upon first glance. In other words: does the fact that
its finale explains all of the movie’s narrative
cumbersomeness forgive said cumbersomeness?
Atonement is not the complex masterpiece that its final
minutes seem to suggest, its finesse in certain areas is
unmistakable. Most noticeably, the film is a visual wonder, with
gorgeous sets constructed by Katie Spencer, detailed costumes
designed by Jacqueline Durran, and wispy cinematography created
by Seamus McGarvey. Providing the film an added punch is Dario
Marianelli’s nuanced, experimental score, which imbues certain
sequences with an unexpected sense of character-related drama.
Also, for the viewer to not realize director Joe Wright’s talent
in packaging individual sequences—even acknowledging that his
attempts in translating Ian McEwan’s adaptation of Christopher
Hampton’s ambitious novel to the big-screen may be flawed—would
be a travesty. His notable skill in working with actors is very
clear in Atonement, too. In leads Keira Knightley and
James McAvoy, Wright evokes what may be the best performances of
both young careers. Additionally, he captures deviously
miraculous work out of child-actor Saoirse Ronan, whose
meagerly-framed thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis is responsible
for the entirety of the film’s grandiose central conflict.
Given how much I
admire the bulk of Atonement, I must concede that it
would be foolish of me to harshly criticize the film even if it
didn’t offer the sucker-punch of an ending that it does.
Sometimes, I think that it is appropriate for a reviewer to
recommend a picture based on individual merits rather than on
its overall significance. Said merits can certainly be
abundantly found in Wright’s film. Still, I would not count out
the possibility that I return to this review and positively
amend it upon seeing the film a second time. Once the viewer
knows where Atonement is headed, its conflicted-feeling
assembly may just come to make perfect sense.
-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews
Review Published on: 12.20.2007
Screened on: 12.8.2007 at the
ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood, CA.