When saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough
Atonement starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse
It’s Oscar-buzz time so I thought it was time for me to get
around to watching some art house movies. Or course, I’m not
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,
I’m talking about the movies that caused all the buzz back in
December 2007 and that never opened in any theaters within a
20-mile radius of my house.
When saying ‘I’m sorry’ isn’t enough
Atonement starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan
It’s Oscar-buzz time so I thought it was time for me to get around to watching some art house movies. Or course, I’m not talking about “Doubt,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” or “Milk.” I’m talking about the movies that caused all the buzz back in December 2007 and that never opened in any theaters within a 20-mile radius of my house.
The problem with waiting to see a critically acclaimed movie is that it can raise expectations to an unreachable height. The other problem is that the movie and its actors are often written about so often that viewers already know all the secrets of the film.
That was the case with “Atonement,” a movie that netted more than half a dozen Oscar nominations, including one for best picture and a best supporting actress nomination for young Saoirse Ronan, who plays the catalyst in the film.
I put off watching the movie because I already knew how it ended, and it wasn’t a happy ending. But once I sat down this week to watch it, it was a reminder that sometimes movies are more about the journey than the ending.
The movie is based on a novel by Ian McEwan and adapted for the screen by Christopher Hampton. Joe Wright directs, and together the three know how to create tension in a story. The action moves back and forth in time, but it takes a few times of this happening before viewers really catch on that we are suddenly in the past. The reason for this back and forth is that the moviemakers can slowly reveal pieces of the story and reveal insights about the characters to us in ways that they could not in a chronological storyline.
The key element in the story is an action by young Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) that changes the course of all the lives around her. With a simple false accusation, she sets in motion consequences that she can never take back.
Briony is 13 and she is precocious, and probably a little bored, on her rich family’s estate. Her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) is home from university, but doesn’t want much to do with her. She also has the company of an older cousin, Lola (Juno Temple) who is visiting, as well as Lola’s younger twin brothers. Briony’s older brother Leon (Patrick Kennedy) is coming for a visit with a friend of his whose family owns a chocolate factory.
Earlier in the day Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the family’s housekeeper and a man whom their father has put through university, has an encounter with Cecilia in which she strips in front of him and dives into a fountain. From a distance, Briony watches and in her naivete cannot make sense of what happened. Viewers are later presented with an up close rehash of what happened. Cecilia went to the fountain to fill up a vase, and Robbie broke the handle off of the valuable item and it fell in the fountain. Cecilia dove in after the handle.
Robbie is to blame for one more action that leads to trouble. He tries to write a letter to Cecilia to apologize, though he struggles to find the right words as he types. This scene is where the musical score really creates a tension in the film, and it is likely the reason the movie won for best original score. The sound of the typewriter as Robbie writes a fateful sentence is echoed throughout the rest of the movie. In one draft of the letter, he writes something of a sexual nature and instead of tossing it out, he folds in on the desk as he writes another draft.
From there, several more actions make things fall into place so that at the end of the night Robbie is accused of attacking Lola. Briony sees the man who attacked Lola, and it is not Robbie, but armed with the letter and other information about Robbie and Cecilia’s relationship, Briony convinces the authorities that Robbie is guilty.
The film can almost be divided into thirds – with the first part leading to Robbie’s arrest. The second part focuses on Robbie and Cecilia’s separation, as he first lands in jail and then in the military, and she isolates herself from her family, including sister Briony.
The last part focuses on Briony, as she ages and tries to come to terms with what she did to her sister and Robbie. The only downside of the last part of the film is that the actress who plays Briony at age 18 (Romola Garia) pales compared to Ronan and actress Vanessa Redgrave, who plays her as an elderly woman. Luckily, the 13-year-old version of Briony has the most important moments in the film. It is in this last section of the film that we find that Briony may have been motivated by more than just naivete and that there is nothing she can do to atone for what she has done.