Oscar Ritual 2008 : ATONEMENT
January 19, 2008 at Cinemark Legacy, Plano, Texas
Nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Original Score
I always intended to read the novel from which Atonement was adapted, but something always prevented me from settling into it. Though I didn’t know the exact situation on which the story is based, I was aware that it involved a horrible lie that brought extreme consequences, so a film version just seemed to be a better choice for me. With film there is less opportunity to delve into the psyches of characters, and I was always unsettled at the thought of spending too much time in the head of protagonist Briony. Now that I’ve seen the film, I know it was the best decision.
Atonement is a great film. It is a serious film with moments that are truly unsettling, but it is nonetheless a great film. Should the Oscar buzz carry it to a Best Picture win, I would likely agree with the choice. But the film is not always easy to watch, and it may turn many American moviegoers against it by its pace and its tone. Though the marketing hails it as a high romance, I heard several women call the film “depressing” as they exited the theater. I wouldn’t go that far, but it does have a slow and sometimes disjointed pace that took some adjustment. I actually enjoyed this aspect; it gave my viewing an intensity that was reflected in both mind and posture. But many audience members were distracted by it, and I fear this kept them from enjoying the film on the level of its worth.
The story begins with a lot of character development then subtly moves into the setup necessary for the great lie. After this plays out, the story begins to jump forward and backward in time to fill in the years and consequences following the crisis point. It is during this portion of the film that each character becomes rich and captivating. Though much of the accolades have been focused upon Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan, playing the younger Briony, it was James McAvoy who carried the film for me. I’ve begun to enjoy him more and more since first seeing him in Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and this film works toward all of his strengths. The angst and lust and joy and heartache of his character are mapped across his features throughout the film. It is his journey that kept me riveted, and it is him who I’ll hope gets recognized during this awards season.
Atonement is not likely to be on my must-watch-again list, but it was truly moving to watch. Even the surprising ending, which contributed to much of the audience’s dissatisfaction, did not detract from my enjoyment of the film. In truth, I prefer untidy endings, for they allow me to ponder the realities of life and love in ways I don’t always allow myself. Atonement gave me much to ponder.
image from Rotten Tomatoes