Thursday, December 27, 2007

On seeing 'Atonement'

This measured, magnificent film by British director Joe Wright (based on the novel by Ian McEwen) is all the more remarkable when you consider that it's only his second feature.

A period piece, a love story and a meditation upon the nature of fiction itself, Atonement opens with the film's titles seemingly typed on the screen; an aural and visual reminder that what we are about to witness is a story - a fitting motif given that a story, an untruth told by a jealous young girl, is the event upon which the film's drama pivots.

Without going into detail about the film's plot (which you can read about elsewhere; and besides, I want to write this post quickly, as I have to bet up in less than five hours) I will say that Wright handles his emotionally-fraught narrative with restraint and subtle flair. Performances are excellent throughout, as is the sound design - driven, at key points, by the repetitive sound of typing to signifiy a shift in scene - and especially the cinematography. A long, complex and deeply moving sequence on the beach at Dunkirk, during WWII, is especially breathtaking, shot as it is in one long, beautiful, terrible, all-too-human take.

The film plays with point-of-view and time, providing overlapping, alternative viewpoints of key events as seen through the eyes of different characters; displays a mastery of cinema's visual language (a welcome nod to the intelligence of its audience); and in its concluding scenes and its coda, reminds us again, through a curtain flapping in a window and a heartfelt performance by the magnificent Vanessa Redgrave, reminds us of how strong something as malleable as fiction can be.

I haven't read McEwen's novel, but watching Atonement tonight makes me want to start reading it immediately.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

about the nature of fiction itself. For those gay inclined, you should also read McEwen's "The Comfort of Strangers."

After reading "Attonment" (I have yet to see the movies), I went to the library and got my hands on anything written by McEwen. He is a marvelous writer.

Anonymous said...

I had issues with the way the narrative moved back and forth. Not so much that it did, but it's execution.

It felt a little weird I guess, a couple of times I had to guess that the flashback was finished and we were back with the 'current' timeline.

That said, I think that's my only complaint. It's a small one at that. Such a great film.

richardwatts said...

That's acrually one of the the things I liked about the film, Tim - that instead of signalling the end of the flashbacks it trusted our intelligence, and that we could work such things out for ourselves...

And Ernesto, thanks for the tip - I'll definitely be checking out 'The Comfort of Strangers' when I finish 'Atonement'.

Glenn Dunks said...

I would have liked a bit more about the immediate after effects of Robbie being taken away. But there's nothing in the book about it so I can't fault the film for that.

An altogether fantastic movie.