"See You Next Thursday..."
Atonement is Joe Wright's masterful film of Ian MacEwan's novel about the responsibilities of authorship and ownership. A tricky novel to adapt, it manages to become just as valid as a film as it does on the printed page. Wright's last film was the umpteenth adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and both he and Keira Knightly managed to make the adaptation relevant and seem needed, though Wright, in an effort to breathe life into it, would sometimes go a bit overboard in his camera tricks.
Here he's much more assured, still suffusing the film with a restless energy, but also getting out of the way of the actors when the drama goes quiet. His "big trick" this time is a five minute continuous shot of the beach at Dunkirk that keeps time with the soldiers, dodges the vehicles in a panic, the muck and the mire, winds around a choir and gives you a hint of the simmering panic of the soldiers stuck on the last patch of land between the enemy and salvation.
But, as he proves a master of space, Wright also plays with time and memory in Atonement, sometimes starting the movie again a reel back to give you an added detail, another viewpoint, a fuller story than one unreliable narrator can provide. His camera snakes along with the participants meeting them stride for stride in their careless haste, and eking out humor in the frailties and shows of civility. And if Wright's work isn't enough to bring home the point, Dario Marianelli's chattering, propulsive score provides a sonic counter-point, blending seamlessly with the sound design and characterizations.
Keira Knightley and James McAvoy (he's never been better) are getting the lion's share of acting accolades, but the true miracle of this movie are the trinity of actresses playing authoress Briony Tallis--Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai, and Vanessa Redgrave--at various stages of her life. They are united by their haunted eyes, seeking out the truth, desperate for comprehension...or what they accept as comprehension. Those eyes grow more feeble with age, more unsure and tremulous, and garners an empathy that helps leaven sympathies for the characters involved, and in doing so Wright provides an "Atonement" of his own.