Plot: Based on Ian McEwan’s 2002 heartbreaking novel, this is a story of 13-year-old Briony accusing her sister (Kiera Knightley) and lover (James McAvoy) of a crime they didn’t commit. Things spiral beyond Briony’s control when World War II affects everyone in unforeseen ways. Who’s it for: This is a film about societal classes and a privileged little girl pushing too far. The romance feels real between Knightley and McAvoy and there is a bit of heartbreak.
Expectations: Ideally, I was thinking this is a film I wanted to watch with my wife. Potentially heartbreaking/romantic.
SCORECARD Actors: Kiera Knightley as Cecilia Tallis: Knightley seems at her best when working with director Joe Wright. They were together for her nominated performance in “Pride & Prejudice.” The absolute best part of Knightley’s acting (besides appearing dripping wet) was her steadfast love. Grade: 8
James McAvoy as Robbie Turner: McAvoy was all but ignored in last year’s “The Last King of Scotland.” Even though he was clearly the lead of that film, Forest Whitaker got all the accolades. Hopefully, Robbie gets more notice. McAvoy yearns with the best of them and rooting for him is not a problem. Grade: 8
Saoirse Ronan/Romola Garai as Briony Tallis: Ronan is the young Briony and it feels like she is straight out of a horror flick, just pure evil with her overly pronounced proper walking. Garai is the 18-year-old Briony, and unfortunately I never once felt the necessary sympathy for her. Grade: 5
Talking: When Robbie says he has “the clarity of passion,” it works. The intense love between Robbie and Cecilia is clearly the strong point of the film. Grade: 7
Sights and sounds: “Atonement” has one of the best scores of the year. In numerous scenes the pounding of a typewriter eventually mutates into intense music. In another pivotal moment, Robbie’s mother (Brenda Blethyn) smacks an umbrella in frustration, again this melds into music. Grade: 10
OVERALL “Atonement” adds to the usual period piece. The romance between Robbie and Cecilia is seen through the eyes of young Briony. This leads to Briony accusing Robbie of a horrendous crime. When World War II begins, potential tragedies come into play for both Robbie and Cecilia, who still long to be together. This leads to one of the best romances of the year. The problem comes when an older Briony attempts to atone for her misdeeds. The last third of the film doesn’t feel cohesive, the twist ending with Vanessa Redgrave isn’t satisfying, and I was ready for tragedy.
Overall Grade: 8