Post by Adam H. Kerman Post by Jim G. Post by Ian J. Ball
Atonement (Showtime Anytime) - I've been meaning to watch this for
years, as it's considered Saoirse Ronan's "big break" role. Overall, I
liked it, though it did feel like the ending kind of pulled the rug out
from a lot of what happened before.
I mainly remember an elegant Keira in a green dress up against a wall
and a soaking wet Keira climbing out of a fountain. Memories can be
fickle like that.
I've always disliked this movie, so if you don't want to watch the rest
of it, here you are.
As so many of you were discussing Atonement, and I got to thinking about
how good/strong/fragile/vulnerable Keira Knightly was in this, and James
McAvoy was one of the best romantic leads ever and Saoirse Ronan was the
evilist little sisters ever... Have I been wrong about this movie all
this time? I haven't seen it since I saw it in theater in 2007.
I looked again on YouTube and still can't find a good clip of the green
dress in the library scene. Any number of clips extract from it, with
other music, and one is in the wrong aspect ratio. I guess you'll just
have to watch the movie.
Keira Knightly as Cecelia is grace and elegance and sensuality. James
McAvoy as Robbie looks at her with love and a powerful lust. The two
grew up together. Cecelia is the daughter of a wealthy man and the
family lives on an elegant estate. The home and grounds used in the
movie are in Shropshire and much of the movie's interiors are filmed in
the home's interior.
Robbie works on the estate, taking care of the grounds. His mother is a
servant. But before he died, Cecelia's father wanted to ensure his
future. He thought he was a bright young man and put him through
college. Robbie wants to become a doctor.
Everything Robbie does irritates Cecelia till she succombs to her
passions. In that vintage green dress. In the library. With Robbie. In
fact, Robbie is making love to both Cecelia and the dress.
Saoirse Ronan plays Briony at age 13, the brattiest little sister ever
seen in a movie. The performance is brilliant and you will hate Briony
with a passion. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress but lost
to Tilda Swinton for Michael Clayton; she should have won.
Briony at age 18 is played by Romola Garai. The resemblance is uncanny
and the two actresses worked on movement and gestures to allow us to
suspend disbelief that it's the same character. It doesn't work with
Vanessa Redgrave in the epilogue.
The first act of the story takes place on the estate on a hot summer
day, 1935. In a key moment establishing Briony's character (which other
people writing reviews of this movie skip commenting on for reasons I
don't understand), Briony, a budding author, has written a play for the
family to perform. The house is filled with people, including children
from another family, two twin boys and their teenage sister Lola. Their
parents are going through a bitter divorce. The boys are miserable,
thinking they've been abandoned by their parents, and Lola is in denial.
Briony demands a rehearsal; no one cooperates. Briony has written her
fiction and wants to direct/manipulate everyone around her into the
imaginary world she's created.
If only Briony had directed her rehearsal, would she have created any of
the ensuing drama that would destroy so many lives?
Friends of the older brother are also at the estate, including Paul
Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch) who is supplying hard-shelled chocolate
to the British Army for soldiers' kits. He expresses an unnatural
interest in Lola.
We see the fountain scene from two perspectives: Briony watches from
upstairs and doesn't understand that Cecelia and Robbie are flirting.
She misses what's going on and thinks Cecelia could be in danger. But
the scene is repeated from the perspective of the two would-be lovers;
Briony was entirely wrong.
Robbie had played the fool for a beautiful woman and, back in his rooms,
drafts and redrafts a letter. One version isn't romantic but a Letter to
Penthouse, expressing his lust and wanting to kiss her cunt, her wet
cunt. In a, er, Freudian slip, he grabs the Penthouse letter, puts it in
an envelope, and hands it to Briony to give to her sister. Briony opens
the letter, of course, reads it, then discusses it with Lola. The two
decide Robbie is a perverted sex maniac.
No, as Tallulah Bankhead famously said about Chico Marx, Robbie is just
an old-fashioned boy.
Cecelia finally gets the letter and knows her sister read it. She's not
offended. This leads to confessing her love to Robbie and the green
dress in the library scene.
We see the scene from Briony's perspective, who has interrupted them. She
sees that her older sister is being harmed, slammed against the library
shelves, by Robbie the perverted sex maniac. But seeing the scene from the
perspective of the two lovers and the green dress, it's full-on passion.
There's a brief moment of humor: Robbie, suffering from coitus
interruptus, takes several very long beats, keeping his back to Briony,
before he can pull himself together, re-fasten his clothes, and turn
around for a most undignified exist from the library.
Now, you have to realize: The movie isn't a romance but melodrama. Truly
terrible things happen to the characters. In my opinion not shared by
lots of people who love this movie, the scenes that are not about
romance between them are weak and I blame the director.
The twin boys have run away to find their father. We learn this after
dinner. A search party is organized. Briony wanders around by herself,
eventually coming upon Lola being raped. From Briony's perspective only,
she isn't looking at the man's face but just knows it's Robbie. Lola,
terrified, says she didn't see the face of her assailant. Lola is
helped into the house and the doctor and police are called. Briony
announces to her mother and others that it's Robbie.
But it can't be Robbie. He's elsewhere on the estate, and has returned
with the twin boys. After a ridiculous interview with a police inspector
who has led Briony into exactly what to say and how to say it to be a
witness for the prosecution at trial, Briony states that she clearly saw
that it was Robbie raping Lola. Cecelia warns the police not to believe
Briony because she convinces herself to believe the stories she makes
up, but she's ignored.
Robbie will spend the next four years in prison, only to be let out due
to Britain's entry into WWII. He enlists but will never be promoted
Cecelia will not go to college. She's broken things off with her own
family, especially Briony. She's trained to become a nurse and will
serve at an evacuation hospital in Balham, South London. There is a
lovely, important scene at lunch in Balham between Cecelia and Robbie.
In France, 1940, the British army is in full retreat. Robbie and two
other men have become separated after a German Panzer attack and slowly
make their way to Dunkirk. We see that Robbie has one of those major
wounds in the center of his chest, untreated and not even cleaned or
bandaged. There are apparently no vital organs in the center of his
chest. The wound doesn't prevent him from walking miles.
Trying to find his way and briefly leaving his two soldiers, one of whom
never stops talking, we have a scene that's disconnected from everything
else. Robbie has come upon a major crime in the middle of the war: Girls
from a Catholic school were murdered, then lain gently on the ground in
an orderly fashion. Robbie is depressed and saddened at the sight. We
don't know how or why it happened. It doesn't appear that the bodies
were pulled from the rubble of a bombed schoolhouse building because no
one looks like she died of crush injuries.
There's no further reference to the incident and Robbie hasn't even
shown the two men he's travelling to Dunkirk with.
Arriving at Dunkirk, we get the scene at which the director spent 1/4 of
the movie's budget on: Massive sets of shipwrecks and destroyed
buildings. There is a long long long long tracking shot, stated to be 6
1/2 minutes long. The director thinks he's David Lean. No, seriously. He
says this in interviews.
David Lean's daughter hated the shot, said it was boring, but I think
it's pretty cool. I have a vague recollection of noticing some of the
CGI in theater, but on television, it's not noticeable.
Briony is now age 18. She's followed her sister into nursing school and
won't go to college either. She's desperate to reconnect with her
sister, to apologize. We see her scrubbing beds, floors, and her own
She sees newsreel footage showing Paul Marshall, now an industrial
supplying the Army with soldier's rations, about to marry Lola. She
shows up at the church in the middle of the ceremony and remembers that
the rapist was Paul.
She finds her sister, now living with an evacuated but slightly shell
shocked Robbie, and says she'll officially recant her testimony and
otherwise make amends. There's a ridiculous discussion that Lola,
married to the perpetrator, cannot testify against him.
She continues to make excuses for the crime she committed at age 13 just
because she was so young and didn't understand what she saw.
Uh, no, that's not how marital privilege works. That has to do with
things said in confidence between the spouses, not covering up crimes
that occurred before the marriage. In any event, the reason why Lola
cannot testify was established shortly after the rape as she never saw
her assailant's face.
So Briony has ruined more lives, now that Lola married her own
Briony has become a most famous and acclaimed novelist. She's published
her 21st novel and tells the interviewer that it's her last. She's dying
a horrible death from vascular dementia, a series of small strokes that
will take her memory and kill her. She won't be able to write.
Her last work is Atonement. It's not a memoir, but fiction. She names
names, including her own, and she claims to have learned from third-hand
accounts what happened to Robbie in the war and at Dunkirk and at
prison and has put it all in the book.
She tells the interviewer that she's faced up to the unvarnished truth
and has written with honesty, but what's the point of honesty if it
won't give the reader anything to enjoy?
Oh yeah. NOW I remember why I despised this movie so intensely and
didn't want to rewatch it since I first saw it in 2007.
She tells the interviewer the truth. Robbie died at Dunkirk from
septicaemia from his untreated wound before he could be evacuated.
Cecelia died later in 1940. During a London air raid, she and dozens of
others took shelter in a tube station in Balham, which collapsed during
a bombing raid. Nearly all died.
In the novel, she gave her sister and Robbie the happy ending she denied
them in life, because the truth wouldn't do any good. She simply made up
the scene in which she had visited her sister and Robbie in Balham and
agreed to recant her testimony. They were both dead at this point. She
actually never saw her sister again.
She's still and forever the 13 year old child using fiction to
manipulate the people in her life. She's deluded herself into thinking
that writing a happy ended for the two dead lovers has made up in any
way what she did to them in life.
At no point has she atoned.
I don't despise because Briony refused to face up, still believes
honesty won't do any good, and will die without her memories in a self
It's just that a movie called Atonement has simply lied to the audience.
It failed to deliver what was promised.
Aside from all that, the movie is just oh so pretensious. We follow bees
and dropped jewelry as the shiny things that catch Briony's eye, which
then lead her to seeing and misinterpreting what the two lovers are
doing. Dunkirk isn't the only tracking shot, but it's the longest.
The movie had seven Oscar nominations. I already mentioned Saoirse
Ronan's. The others were best picture, adapted screenplay,
cinematography, art direction, and costume, so yeah, the green dress
lost. Other critics have named it the single most important dress in the
movies, beating out Audrey Hepburn's little black dress in Breakfast at
It had one win: Best score.
Jeeze. I don't like the score because I find a lot of it intrusive and
not incidental as a movie score is supposed to be. "Percussion" is
provided unsubtly by keys clacking on a typewriter, an unsubtle hint
that Briony is making shit up at that moment. Also, the rest of the
sound effects are deliberately unsubtle and blended into the score.
Also, if you listen to the composition for our doomed lovers, especially
after what we learn at movie's end was final meeting at lunch, those
chord changes are very very familiar.
It's Nature Boy.
That doesn't belong in an award-winning score.