Do you ever have those movies that are well regarded but are hard for you to sit through? Atonement is such a film for me. It’s pretty but oh does it annoy the heck out of me. It’s like a tedious set of Downton Abbey episodes but without any of that show’s soapy fun. And at least with Downton Abbey I care about the Crawleys. In Atonement I couldn’t care less about any of these people.
Atonement is directed by Joe Wright with a lot of empty style and it is based on the novel by Ian McEwan. The film stars Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, James McAvoy and Romola Gerai and Vanessa Redgrave. They are all good. It’s just the story that is annoying.
Basically Saoirse plays Briony, a little girl who has a girl’s crush on the servant’s son Robbie. She see’s 2 scenes with her sister Cecilia and Robbie, one which is innocent and one where they are intimate with each other. She intercepts some letters and convinces the police that Robbie is responsible for a rape that occurs. Long and short of it this act of a child ruins everyone’s lives.
The problem is we aren’t invested in the couple or the relationship. We don’t get to see the courtship or really care about them as people. Briony is a horrid little girl and then a flat older woman. We see the couple so briefly and then rest of the movie we get bland war, bland hospital scenes, bland staring across the room at what might have been. I’m sorry but one makeout session does not a compelling couple make.
I also found it annoying when the movie tries to be artistic with 4th wall breaks like characters staring directly at the camera for long periods or when we see the same scene from multiple perspectives. That could be interesting in a book but especially in a movie where a couple is going to be separated for most of the film, I needed more dialogue, more fleshed out characters. It does not make Briony more interesting because she stares at the camera for long periods. It makes me the viewer want to punch her in the nose- and not in a gripping way but in a ‘stop staring and tell me something about who you are!’ way.
In the end, it feels like about 20 minutes of story stretched out into 2 hours. I needed more evidence of why it all mattered. Why is this couple soooo special? Why does this love matter soooo much? I get that a man went to prison, but I didn’t know this man and the film doesn’t give me much of a reason to care for him. Maybe if the film had been told from his perspective it might have been more compelling but as it is he just felt flat.
Anyway, Hit Me with Your Best Shot is about picking a favorite shot even in movies we don’t particularly like, and to its credit Atonement does look nice. There are lots of cool pieces of cinematography but the one that captured my feeling for the film is this:
Robbie is a soldier and he is thinking about that great kiss in the library. He passes a screen with a movie playing for the soldiers and I can’t help but think- I wish I was watching that instead…
Overall Grade- C- just because it looks nice and the acting is good