Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Christopher Hampton (based on novel by Ian McEwan)
Saoirse Ronan: Briony Tallis, Age 13
Romola Garai: Briony Tallis, Age 18
Vanessa Redgrave: Briony Tallis, Age 70ish
James McAvoy: Robbie Turner, son of the housekeeper in the home of a wealthy English family at the outbreak of World War II. He has been educated at the expense of the family.
Keira Knightley: Cecilia Tallis, second of the three Tallis children. She has a Cambridge education and is in love with Robbie.
Juno Temple: Lola Quincey, one of three children of a divorced couple who are staying with the Tallis family.
Felix von Simson and Charlie von Simson : Pierrot Quincey and Jackson Quincey, twin brothers of Lola. They are suffering from the upheaval in their lives.
Benedict Cumberbatch: Paul Marshall, friend of Leon Tallis. He owns a chocolate factory and anticipates large sales to the British army. He shows an inappropriate interest in Lola, who seems to be only 13 or 14 at the time of his visit.
Atonement received a lot of attention at the 2008 Academy Awards ceremonies. It won an Oscar for Best Original Musical Score and was nominated for Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Best Screenplay Based on a Previously Published Work, and Best Picture. Saoirse Ronan, who plays Briony Tallis at the age of thirteen, was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
The cinematography certainly is beautifully done with eye-filling sweeps of the magnificent house and grounds of the Tallis family. The scene of the waiting soldiers at Dunkirk is, as one of the characters remarks, "like something in the Bible."
McAvoy's pensive good looks are pleasant to to look at and he conveys the believable character of a young man who has bridged the social classes without becoming alienated from his origins. He has learned to pass as a "toff," but never forgets that as far as the upper classes are concerned, he will always be suspect. Nevertheless, he recognizes his own worth and is able to accept Cecilia's love as his due.
The casting of the three Brionys deserves mention. The distinctive hair cut and oval faces produce a startling likeness as Briony passes from adolescence to young womanhood, and, finally, to old age.
Not having read the novel by Ian McEwan, I'm not able to compare and contrast. One reviewer opines that the film improves on the original:
"the film actually transcends the novel at times, due in no small part to Seamus McGarvey's fluid camera work." (Matt Kelemen)
Cinematography is one thing; plot is another. For all its cinematographic qualities, Atonement suffers from the unbelievability of the plot devices that cause Briony to ruin the happiness of Cecilia and Robbie. The most ridiculous is the mix-up with the note of apology.
Cecilia's jumping into the fountain to retrieve a broken bit of priceless vase is the next silliest. For one thing, even glued back together the vase would no longer be "priceless." For another, Cecilia has an army of servants at her beck and call, any one of whom could have been ordered into the fountain. I suppose that her demonstration was the result of her lust for Robbie, although stripping on the front lawn in view of hundreds of windows does not seem the behavior of a Cambridge-educated woman of gentle breeding in 1935.
Cecilia's jump into the pond mirrors Briony's plunge into the river in order to get Robbie's attention. And speaking of mirrors, they're all over the place. Characters are constantly looking at their reflections in mirrors or in windows. One scene mirrors another as we are shown what Briony thinks she's seeing and then what is "really" happening.
Much repetition, regardless of the director's intention, becomes tedious. And tedium equates to boredom. The pace of this movie is S-L-O-W.
Atonement is a "one-viewing" film. I can't imagine wanting to watch it a second time.