Two lives are irreparably shattered when a young girl
misunderstands an incident involving her older sister and her lover.
Directed by Joe Wright
Written by Christopher Hampton
Starring James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan,
Benedict Cumberbatch, Juno Temple, Patrick Kennedy,
Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave
Based on the novel by Ian McEwan
Oscar Wins - Best Original Score (Dario Marianelli)
Oscar Nominations - Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress
(Saoirse Ronan), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design
Atonement has become somewhat well-known for having one of the most despicable characters in film history. I don't necessarily agree with that, but I get it. Saoirse Ronan's character Briony Tallis witnesses her sister Cecilia (Knightley) having sex with her lover Robbie (McAvoy) and believes it to be rape. Thus, Briony had no problem confessing she saw Robbie commit another rape in the woods later that night. This accusation creates a ripple effect in Cecilia and Robbie's lives that leads to so much tragedy, while Briony has to live with her mistake. Here's the thing, though. Briony was thirteen years old, already had reason to believe Robbie was a pervert, and Cecilia never said a word to stop her. This all could've been cleared up by Cecilia, yet she said nothing. So who is really to blame here? But I digress. Atonement is an emotional rollercoaster that constantly drops huge bombs on its audience, and never bothers to provide the sort of comfort we all expect from a love story.
On the eve of World War II, a terrible letter mix-up leads to Robbie and Cecilia banging it out in the library. But Briony witnesses it, leading to Robbie's arrest later that night. Robbie is then drafted into the army in lieu of more prison time. Cecilia and Briony's relationship is shattered, and years later, Briony, now a nurse, tries to make amends. But it's too late, in more ways than one. I don't want to spoil the gut-punch of an ending, but it's not something you'll soon forget. There's not a lot of films with such an absence of hope as this one.
Atonement subverts audience expectations in the best ways, and while it takes a bit to get started and there are certain plot threads that don't get resolved, it makes sense why in the end. It's an unreliable narrator situation. But the performances are great, the score is breathtaking, and the story is consistently engaging.