Atonement

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Posted December 6, 2007 in Film

Sweeping, showy, and stiff, Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s pedigreed bestseller traffics in florid staging and callow emotions. Precocious 13-year-old Briony can’t handle her crush on the housekeeper’s older son Robbie (a glamorously-filmed James McAvoy)—particularly since he’s in love with her 23-year-old sister Cecilia (Keira Knightly). Tangled up in jealousy, desire and hurt, Briony ruins three lives by accusing Robbie of raping her teenage cousin (Juno Temple) and lives out the rest of her own learning that forgiveness can’t always be earned. It’s a dark and churning film here given an Oscar gloss that nearly distracts from the second half of the film’s restless emptiness. And it says something that it’s centerpiece shot—a four-minute pan over the carnage of the Battle of Dunkirk—is all about aesthetic, not empathetic, awe. Though it’s billed as a tragedy for smart people, Wright can’t resist dollops of explanatory voice over and heavy symbolism. But as always, McAvoy in a waistcoat makes a smoldering, passionate inamorato, and Knightly’s face, if not her personality, well deserve his devotion. (Amy Nicholson)


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