A2P Cinema 100 Films of the Aughts
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ATONEMENT
2007 - Joe Wright - United Kingdom / France
22

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"Come back. Come back to me." Joe Wright's Atonement opens to the sounds of a typewriter and a detailed image which pans past a model of a mansion and toy set, towards a young girl typing. Through images and sound (which flawlessly works as one with the score) the essence of the film is defined. With inspiring direction, performances, and musical score Atonement is a romantic tragedy which is self-reflective in mysteries of the creative process. The filmmaking is on an epic scale, but I think to simply label this film as an epic would be greatly undermining it's impact. On an emotional level, this is a very intimate and small film. As he did with his first feature (Pride and Prejudice), Wright gives the film a vibrantly visual work of mastery achievement (highlighted by an elaborate tracking shot through the Dunkirk beach that will be looked at throughout film history). The real strength of his work is the way Wright reinvents the period convention into a study of self-aware literature. The performances throughout this film are nothing short of remarkable. Echoing stars of old, James McAvoy proves his leading man talents and under Wright's direction again Keira Knightley is stunning (especially breathtaking in her scenes wearing the green dress!!). The heart of the film however is in Briony Tallis and she is stirringly played by Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave. Each of these actresses perfectly captures the mystery of this character. The performances or filmmakers do not judge the character instead leaving Briony ambiguous (notably through their glances). In the young Ronan we see Briony observe (like playing with an insect) the flirtations between Celia and Robbie. In Garai we see Briony haunted and trying to make amends. Then in the eldest Redgrave we see the ambiguity of a writer who through her creation has attempted to make herself less morally responsible. Atonement is structured in three-parts and most of the second half is learned to be a literary recreation by the eldest Briony. She has re-written the story to diminish her guilt and in her mind make good on her past mistake. The ambiguity lies in whether you believe she is doing good or if it is simply the act of a deceitful ego. Viewed either way, Briony fails to recognize differences between the fiction she imagines and the result those imaginations have on reality. These are the complex and ambiguous levels Atonement is working on, and as a filmmaking achievement it is remarkable. Sweeping direction and lovely performances, Atonement is a hauntingly tragic romance that modifies the conventions of a period piece.
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trailer (youtube)
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