‘Twas a strange Academy Awards for me and the missus this time, as we’d actually seen 4 of the 5 nominated Best Pictures in the theaters, with only “Michael Clayton” going unwatched (as it likely will during DVD season as well). Normally I might have seen one of the nominated films, given as they often are to extravaganzas like “Chicago”, “Titanic” and the like.
“ATONEMENT”, which ended up not winning the hallowed statuette this year, was one of the films where when I’d ask folks about it, they’d always say, “I read the book”. Friggin’ EVERYONE read that book. Not me. I knew there was some WWII stuff going on, as well as some mistake of some kind, for which there would be some atonement. That’s all I knew – oh that, and the fact that a lot of these book-readers said the film wasn’t “all that”. That’s what I had to work with, people.
“ATONEMENT”, the film, was actually a pretty good yarn. The acting was excellent across the board – especially all 3 women who played Briony (one of whom, Vanessa Redgrave, only shows up in the last 5-10 minutes of the film, and is still fantastic). As you book readers well know, the story concerns a pre-teen named Briony Talis who witnesses adult sexuality between a man she knows well, and that she herself lusts for, and her own sister. In her confusion and heartbreak, she decides to make up a story about the man that has devastating, lifelong consequences for all parties concerned. Taking place at the dawn of World War II, which intrudes upon these upper-class countryside Brits in a big way, “Atonement” then shifts forward to how each character survived the war and its aftermath. All was great up to that point, but I felt the scene on the beach, with the defeated British army evacuating at Dunkirk, fell really flat for me. The chaos was at once both totally believable, and yet way overdone & hokey. I liked it much better when the twentysomething Briony (played wonderfully by Romola Garai)visited the wounded soldiers in the makeshift hospital, and later visited her sister and Robbie to try and make amends. Those scenes were outstanding, and quite moving as well, as these things go. I know others saw them as kinda sappy, but what can I say, I’m kind of a sap.
The film is a textbook sort of film for “good filmmaking” on a grand scale, and I’m sure a lot of what drives it headlong is the book upon which is was based. It wasn’t as good as the other biggies this year – I’m talking of course of “THERE WILL BE BLOOD” and “NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN” – not by a mile, but I think it’s something you’re probably going to want to see if you like movies, which I reckon you do.
Celluloid Hut Rating: B