Movie #145 Atonement
(2007, US/UK, d. Joe Wright)
I think period pieces are overrated. A lot of the times, you choose 40’s England as a setting, get some great actors, put them in old clothes, have them deliver tense lines in a rich and upper-class dialect, and throw an artsy title in there and voila: an Academy Award nominated picture. But Atonement is different. It’s one of those period pieces that carries tension so well that you forget you’re watching dated events. It infuses “boring” upper-class antics with a non-linear style that carries throughout the film and constantly keeps you on your toes. Though the acting is good, it’s the direction here that really stands out. Joe Wright’s ultimate vision for Ian McEwan’s novel is inspired: it brings a life to the age-old story of the classic romance with a stylistic flair. There’s a 8 1/2 minute long-shot that I remember in particular. Involving 1000 real extras, no CGI, the camera follows Robbie (James McAvoy) as he walks through the aftermath of Dunkirk. A superbly rehearsed scene, when you watch this shot, your jaw will drop. I love long shots but they take a ton of work. The amount of work this must have taken is unimaginable. But that all said, there are two real stars of this film. The first is cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. Probably the best photographed film of the year, the images alone express the entire emotion of the scene without a single piece of dialogue uttered. There are two distinct styles of the piece: the pre-war scenes and the war scenes. Both have a very unique and jaw-droppingly haunting look to it that even when compared to Robert Elswit’s There Will Be Blood, it’s a shame this film didn’t take the Oscar. Finally, Saoirse Ronan: the confused 12-year old who sets the entire movie in motion. Nominated for an Oscar, Ronan’s performance is touching, scary, and innocent all in one – she’s evil, but she’s an angel at the same time. And Ronan gets that across wonderfully. Guys, rent this movie. Now.