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Directed by Joe Wright.
Written by Christopher Hampton.  Based on the novel by Ian McEwan.
Starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan.
Release Year:  2007
Review Date:  12/13/07


At the end of the day, I had to admit--I couldn't shake the feeling that "Atonement" was a British version of "Cold Mountain", and in both cases, I should probably just go off and read the books they are based off of because the movies were just okay to me.

"Atonement" follows a similar plot to "Cold Mountain" in a few respects.  It's 1935, and we get a good-looking, rough-around-the-edges type named Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) who has feelings for a beautiful woman named Cecilia (Keira Knightley).  Robbie trusts Cecilia's little sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan) to give Cecilia a note expressing his love for Cecilia...naturally, Briony reads the note before giving it to her sister, and unfortunately for everyone involved, this note is a little more explicit than another note Robbie had meant to give Cecilia that day.  Anyway, Cecilia and Robbie have a romantic moment together, and just hours later, Robbie is whisked off to jail for a crime that he didn't commit...because Briony has lied to the local pigs about who committed said crime (a sex act on another child staying at Cecilia & Briony's home).  Fast forward to four years later, where Robbie is longing to get back to his girl, but there's only one problem--as part of his sentencing, he agreed to fight for England during WWII, and now that he is retreating with other British troops in the French countryside, he is hopeful that he can stay alive long enough to get back home to the UK to be with his sweetheart.  Drama ensues.

Here's what I did love about "Atonement":  the performances, particularly by McAvoy and the little girl played by Ronan; the beautiful production design and the costumes; the film's first 45 minutes.  Here's what I didn't love: the ending; the ridiculous typewriter-driven soundtrack (I can still hear the music crescendo tied to sounds of someone hitting a typewriter key...WTF!!!); generally every moment after Robbie is running around in France with two other soldiers who apparently have nothing interesting to say or do.  The mix of all of this left me with a mixed bag, and in reading some reviews tonight from real critics, I can't see what they saw in this slow, search-for-Bobby-Fischer middle portion of the film that leaves it (or at least for me, left it) dying on the operating table.

I'm absolutely sure that the book does a better job of bridging this transition, because as it is, I was just freakin' bored watching the Robbie-is-longing-for-Cecilia moments of this film.  I was similarly bored watching the Jude Law character search for the Nicole Kidman character during "Cold Mountain", but the difference was that we had better supporting characters in "Cold Mountain" (although I remember being a little annoyed at the Renee Zellweger character by the end of that one).  Again, I loved the setup of "Atonement" and was really intrigued to see where it would go after Robbie gets sent off to jail...but, the film never recovered for me, and while I am very confident that old, cultured, rich British people will love this film, I wonder how the rest of America (non-critics, that is) will feel, because while some of the romantic elements are interesting, "Atonement" really does do a slow burn to the finish line.

And that ending!  Didn't like it at all.  You get a feeling some of those things were coming, but in the way it is presented, it lost much of the impact that could have come from things happening, well, in the moment.  You know what I mean if you saw this thing!  A mixed bag for me, but there's almost no way this doesn't get nominated for Best Picture, because I know nothing about good movies.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09