Zack Mandell is a movie enthusiast, writer of movie reviews, and owner of Movie Room Reviews which has great information on movies and actors. He writes extensively about the movie industry for sites such as Gossip Center, Yahoo, NowPublic, and Helium.
Atonement is a well written, beautifully performed period film that was first released in 2007. It was adapted from the novel by the same name, written by Ian McEwan, and released in 2001. Atonement begins by painting a picture of life in the joyful English country side of 1935. Having recently recovered from the horrors of World War I, Britain is experiencing a calm that is soon to be shattered by the start of World War II.
Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), is a 13 year old girl caught up in, and held captive by the immaturity of her young age. She’s the younger sister of Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley), the secret admirer of her sister’s love interest, Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), and the one responsible for shattering the potential happiness of three young lives.
The drama begins after Briony witnesses, and improperly interprets a shared moment between Cecilia and Robbie through an upstairs window. Briony begins to think of Robbie as someone he’s not, and her secret crush on Robbie clouds her ability to see things for how they really are. The film does a great job of demonstrating this by showing this scene first through the eyes of Briony, and then from the perspective of Robbie and Cecilia. What Briony interprets as a rude, aggressive advance on Robbie’s part is actually the first expression of mutual interest, or love, Robbie and Cecilia share on screen.
The innocence and joy of those involved is soon to be shattered. After their first charged episode of on screen interaction between Robbie and Cecilia, Robbie returns home and sets out to write Cecilia a letter. He writes, and re-writes the letter, finally producing two versions, an appropriate letter, and another that’s suggestive to say the least.
Although he doesn't intend on giving the second letter to Cecilia he mistakenly grabs it on his way out the door. Through an act that can only be described as bad luck, Robbie gives the letter to Briony to give to her sister Cecilia. Being incapable of self-control, Briony reads the letter and finds it disgusting, but at the same time becomes jealous over Robbie’s affection towards her sister.
For the morally inclined the movie takes a plunge during a library sex scene between Cecilia and Robbie that Briony secretly views through a half-opened door. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but a necessary happening for what comes next. A friend of the family, Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch) rapes Briony’s teenage cousin Lola (Juno Temple) in the woods, and although Briony is witness to the crime, she lies and says Robbie committed the crime.
As a result of this lie Robbie is sent to prison for four years before being released under the condition that he joins the military. As Atonement progresses Briony, Robbie, and Cecilia find themselves thrust full force into the horrors of World War II. Robbie is a soldier and has one final meeting with Briony and Cecilia who have both become nurses. It’s at this point all three realize that Briony’s lie stole their youth, and chances for a happy life.
The movie ends with an elderly Briony writing a book titled “Atonement”. Although Cecilia dies in a tunnel during the bombing of Britain, and Robbie dies on the beach at Dunkirk, Briony tries to restore some level of happiness between Robbie and Cecilia through her fictional story telling. If they couldn't have happiness in life, perhaps they can have it in death?
The Final Analysis
Atonement has quite a few emotional ups and downs. For the majority of the film I wanted Robbie and Cecilia to get a break and live happily ever after, but the movie never gave me that. I’ll admit this film definitely had a more depressing ending than I am used to seeing, but it was nice to experience something a little more realistic than the idealized love stories movies tend to present.
The scenery and score are both wonderful, and help add to the overall sensual nature of the film. There are a few scenes that left me feeling awkward and uncomfortable so I wouldn't suggest watching this movie with your kids.
Lastly, although I've never read the book, the film adaptation of Atonement is phenomenal. If the book, like they always say, is truly better than the movie, then the book is definitely worth a read!