Saturday, January 05, 2008

Kathleen On "Atonement"

I've been waiting for this one. The limited release dragged on, and I was afraid I was going to have to drive tona (that's many in Lakota, pronounced dona) miles to see it. Finally this weekend, it's in general release. What took so long? So many weekends, so few movies worth $8.50 a ticket. Atonement is that, and then some.

I haven't read the novel by Ian McEwan, but the movie feels like a novel. It's rich with detail. It's gorgeous cinema, but beyond that, there's the exquisite selection of detail--the sensory detail, the period detail, and the literary imagery. Every shot makes a lush impression. Impressions collect to create sense of place, time, mood. All the stuff you get from a novel, the stuff that engages the imagination. McEwan must be pleased. Here's a movie that engages the imagination by using point of view to drive the story. It's a must see for writers and fiction lovers. (Sorry. The"must see" claim usually turns me off--don't tell me what I must see--but seriously. Must see.)

It's a hot summer day in 1935. The Tallis family, living their privileged life on their English country estate with its rambling Gothic mansion, is entertaining guests. 13-year-old Briony has just finished writing a play, and she wants her cousins to help her present it tonight. Older sister Cecilia and Robbie, the housekeeper's son, are doing a poor job of hiding their undeclared passion for each other. Restlessness abounds. War is imminent.


Briony has a crush on Robbie. She adores her older sister. Like all writers, young Briony is an imaginative observer, and on this day she witnesses three incidents and comes up with a story that will forever changes the lives around her. Story is life and life is story.

And this one is masterfully told through various points of view, but the identity of the viewpoints is part of the unraveling, part of the surprise.
The unique narrative unfolding, which is neither linear nor flashback, also contributes to the surprise. Kiera Knightly and James McAvoy deliver fine performances, as do all the actresses who play Briony.

The contrast between the opening scenes in rural England and the war relies on mood as much as drama. We don't get battle scenes.
We see the British troops desperately waiting at Dunkirk. We see London hospitals. We see Londoners taking shelter in anticipation of an air raid. We see the discovery of murdered innocents. Fascinating choices make for a very different movie experience, one sure to make the storyteller in us sit up and take notice.

Yes, this is a Romance, and, yes it's tragic in the classical sense. (And you've heard me say it before, but I'll say it again, happily-ever-after does not define Romance. But we may have to agree to disagree on this.) BUT the viewpoint character is a writer, remember. I'll say no more, lest I spoil it for you. This is a good 'un, guys. Don't wait for the dvd. Big screen entertainment.

As we left the theater, we passed a handsome couple waiting for the next show. The woman stopped Clyde. "Sir, did you enjoy the movie?" Clyde said, "Yes, very much." (You could tell he hadn't expected to.) She smacked her guy's chest with the back of her hand. "See!"

9 comments:

Cindy Gerard said...

Great review, Kathleen. I've been wanting to see Atonement. Thanks to your glowing rec, I think I'll fit it in.

Christie Ridgway said...

Oh, man, I'm torn. The tragic ending is just not something I'm in the mood for at the moment. But it does look visually beautiful and now you're making me rething my decision on this, Kathleen.

Michele Hauf said...

I loath Knightley, but after reading your review, Kathy, I just might have to find time to catch it on the big screen.

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy, thanks! I've been hemming and hawing about seeing this one. I do love a good romance, no matter what the ending. But sometimes I'm just not in the mood for tragic love. But after reading your review, I may drag Siggie to see it.

Kathleen Eagle said...

I hear y'all on not being in the mood for tragedy. Believe me, I'm browsing the comedy section of Blockbuster first these days.

But you'll like this one, ladies. And the cinematography deserves the big screen. It's lush.

Dara Edmondson said...

I've been on the fence about seeing this, but you've convinced me. I've heard so much good about it. Maybe I can get DH to see it with me.

flchen1 said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Kathleen! I don't get out much to the movies (it's been, uh... years...) but this does look beautiful. I'm also wary of tragic endings, but it sounds like this one's worth it!

LaShaunda said...

I want to see this movie, but I don't think my Clyde will go with me. I have to wait until DVD.

You did a better review than the movie critics.

Kathleen said...

Hey, Lashaunda, you have a Clyde, too? They're rare! Stubborn, too. I won't say this was my Clyde's favorite movie of the season, but he got the last pick--"No Country For Old Men"--all the shooting and blood-letting a man could want.

Do what I do when Clyde won't budge: treat yourself to a girls' night out.

So glad you liked my review. I love to opine, as you've probably noticed.