Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave
Ian McEwan, Christopher Hampton
While "Atonement," director Joe Wright's follow up to his award-winning Jane Austen adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice," isn't quite the latter film's equal it is further proof that when it comes to literary adaptations Wright has a firm grasp of how to translate the written word to the big screen.
Based upon Ian McEwan's novel, "Atonement" begins in the 1930's English countryside as the world prepares for war. As the world around them rises in conflict, young Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) carries on flirtatiously with a servant, Robbie (James McAvoy, "Rory O'Shea Was Here"), under the jealous yet watchful eye of her 13-year-old sister Briony (played as a teenager by Saoirse Ronan). Briony, who vacillates between jealousy and mistrust of Robbie, comes forward with a lie that will forever alter the three lives when a girl is raped while staying with the family.
What transpires, essentially, is the lifelong journey that unfolds irrevocably impacted by Briony's one lie.
Robbie goes to prison, yet is eventually drawn into World War II combat where both Cecilia, who continues to love Robbie, and Briony (portrayed by Romola Garai as a young adult) serve as nurses.
Wright is at his best during the film's first half, as much of "Atonement" deals with these three characters, their relationships and the impact of their behavior. While "Atonement" doesn't drop off dramatically during its wartime segments, these scenes aren't quite as compelling and screenwriter Christopher Hampton's non-linear style of writing begins to bog the film down. The exception to this would be a remarkable, single shot portrayal of the Dunkirk Evacuation during World War II that is subtly astounding.
Knightley, who was Oscar-nominated for her last collaboration with Wright and has already been nominated for a Golden Globe here, is the least important character in "Atonement" nonetheless remains quite impressive in a far more challenging role for her than in "Pride and Prejudice."
McAvoy, long an underrated actor and also a Golden Globe nominee, fares even better here as the wrongly accused Robbie, while Vanessa Redgrave shines in her brief appearance as the elder Briony. While Ronan has gotten much of the attention, and the Golden Globe nomination, for her supporting turn as Briony, it is Garai that serves as the bridge that links the entire film together.
"Atonement," which recently led the announced Golden Globe nominations with 7 nominations, is a beautifully rendered, well-acted and faithfully adapted film that further enchants long after one has left the theatre. It is the sort of film that one must reflect upon to fully integrate the scenes that, even when seemingly different, somehow tie themselves together at the end.
It is nearly impossible to leave "Atonement" without contemplating the very ideas of betrayal and atonement in one's life and beyond with an ending that will make you want to see the entire film once again.
Copyright 2007, The Independent Critic