Atonement is a tragic love story that shows how the ignorant point-of-view of a young, innocent girl can make true love crumble. Here is a film that within its understandable sappiness makes you truly care for everything that happens in all of its 123 minute running time. We are taken on an emotional ride through the tragedy of love and human nature. Based off of Ian McEwan's classic novel of the same name, this beautiful looking film has a lot of terror and sadness overtaking it.
Driven by three characters that will touch our hearts then break them; Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) is a 13-year-old girl who writes plays with stories of unique spontaneous love. Her older sister Cecelia (Keira Knightley) is a young woman who lives a very high-class life. Then there is Robbie (James McAvoy) who is a housekeeper for the Tallis family who helped him become a Cambridge graduate. Robbie has always been around the Tallis family; he has known Briony for her entire life which has leads to her crush (in every sense of the word) on him and he attended Cambridge at the same time as Cecelia.
This story starts off by being told by showing how Briony sees Cecelia and Robbie in a situation that she does not see as positive, then by showing how it actually happen which reveals there growing love. Misunderstandings are what lead to Briony's ignorant confusion, so when she sees Cecelia and Robbie in a passionate embrace she tells a lie that will destroy all three of their lives. This method of storytelling requires much patience and may seem repetitive, but in the end will prove to be vital for Atonement to achieve its full effect.
For much of the film we see Robbie desperately trying to survive World War II and return home to his love Cecelia who clings desperately to the hope of him returning and them living happily ever after. We then see 18-year-old Briony (Romola Garai) who is tortured by the realization of what her lie has done and has lost the ability to love also.
I feel that cinematographer Seamus McGarvey deserves his own separate praise. His cinematography goes from showing the beautiful landscape of England to perfectly depicting the gruesome and heartbreaking terrors of World War II. One moment we are basking in the glory of love the next moment we are being brought to tears by the despair of war. McGarvey does a remarkable job at creating a heartbreaking combination of love and war.
By playing the back-and-forth game, Atonement is always risking losing the attention of its audience, but I strongly feel that Joe Wright does a marvelous job choosing the perfect moments to go back a relive past events. I will admit that some moments feel like the film is trying to remind itself what has happened, though I also feel going back and showing the different point-of-views of all three major characters allows us to understand how Cecelia and Robbie feel while letting us sympathize with Briony.
Relying heavily on three characters gives a tremendous amount of responsibility to the actors playing those roles, and those performances shine. Keira Knightley was born to play high-class English women. She had already shown off her buttery smooth accent and deliciously seductive acting ability in Pride and Prejudiced (2005), which was also her first collaboration with Joe Wright. James McAvoy was perfectly cast as the reserved, head-strong Robbie whose journey through the hell of war almost steals the entire film.
Three different actresses play the role of Briony Tallis; Saoirse Ronan controls the first leg of the film. She does a wonderful job as the innocent 13-year-old Briony whose ignorance creates heartbreak and ultimately death. Beautiful Romola Garai plays 18-year-old Briony, creating a tortured young girl desperately needing to redeem herself and be forgiven. Finally, Vanessa Redgrave makes a surprise appearance as old Briony who brings this story to a perfect tear-jerking closure.
Let yourself be sucked in by this storytelling achievement, even if it does break your heart because it sure did break mine. Love stories don't come this deep or engrossing, what this is here is something to treasure. A perfectly cast film that brings three characters to the screen that will live on forever. With a true passion for the material Joe Wright brings Ian McEwan's timeless novel to the big-screen, and now even people too lazy to read will be able to experience this journey through time, war, and love.