Yesterday, I watched Atonement. I had repeatedly heard of it, I had listened to the music (it was composed by Dario Marianelli and won the 2008 Oscar for Best Soundtrack), I am a big fan of both Keira Knightley and James McAvoy and Saoirse Ronan’s acting in Lovely Bones and The Grand Budapest Hotel had already convinced me she was an actress worth watching but I never had the occasion and I quite frankly forgot about the movie.
All of those thoughts came back earlier this week when I saw the DVD in the sales section of Sainsbury’s. Honestly, I thought, if I don’t like it enough to watch it more than once, I would just have to give it to one of my flatmate or colleague. I had once or twice paid more than three pounds to watch movies I hadn’t heard half the nice things I heard about Atonement and I had been able to recover financially so I decided to put the DVD in my basket without feeling even a bit of guilt.
And, man, I don’t regret it.
Atonement is the story of Briony Tallis telling the story of her sister Cecilia and her lover Robbie. It starts in the 30’s with a 13-year-old Briony on the day everything changed, the hottest day of the summer when everything was still fine, soft and innocent. Briony has finished writing her first play and is quite determined to subdue her cousins into playing in it, Cecilia is getting ready for her brother’s welcome back party, Robbie is struggling with his feelings for Cecilia, trying to turn them into an acceptable declaration of love.
As the night falls, everything gets darker and Briony gives the fatal blow to innocence when she accuses Robbie of raping her cousin, claming she has seen him with her own eyes. He goes to prison, her sister, the only one to believe him innocent, leaves the family and Briony doesn’t see the two of them for five years.
At 18, Briony becomes a nurse. Now fully aware of the consequences of her acts, she tries to give amend. It is a bit complicated since Robbie, who was released from prison to go in the army and fight in France, is somewhere near Dunkirk and Cecila, now a nurse, refuses to forgive her.
Still, she manages to hear from them and to write a novel about them: Atonement, the story of Briony Tallis telling the story of her sister Cecilia and her lover Robbie.
Joe Wright’s decision to stay true to the construction of Ian McEwan’s novel creates a surprising experience. The way he decided to put it on screen is absoluteny genius. Both the screenplay and the directing grow up with Briony, who is played by 3 actresses (all of them exquisite). The contrast between the peacefull afternoon of the beginning and the night chaos of the end is stunning and both of them have their own way of being beautiful throught Joe Wright’s camera. There’s the elegant beauty of quiet routine and there’s the mesmerizing beauty of tragic bestiality.
All of that is perfectly framed by a captivating soundtrack and a very intelligent sound mixing. The background is polished and it makes what is in the foreground shine even more. I am, of course, talking about the actors. Saoirse Ronan is fresh and spontaneous, Keira Knighltey is touching and James McAvoy inhabits his character subtly and delicatly.
Atonement is a heart-wrenching story, the kind of story that would be good without a twist and that is amazing with it, because you just don’t expect it.