Atonement (2007)

4,5/5

UK; Joe Wright

 

Mature Audiences - Disturbing Gruesome Images; Strong Language; Brief Sexuality

 


England, 1935. Young Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), an introvert, quiet aspiring writer, grasps a series of sexually charged episodes she misreads, thus leading her to commit a terrible, irrevocable wrongdoing. Briony faces an abrupt sexual awakening when her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) embarks on a torrid affair with the family housekeeper’s son, Robbie (James McAvoy). Assuming that Robbie is a deviant, she accuses him of a crime he didn’t commit. This senseless and cruel act will destroy Robbie and Cecilia’s new-found love and wipe out any possibility of happiness in several lives… not least her own.

 

With Atonement, his second feature film, Wright delivers a no-holds-barred, sweeping romance, with palpable echoes of classic epics such as Gone with the Wind, Casablanca and The English Patient, with their passionate love stories hindered or smothered by war, egoism and human cruelty. But at its seething core, Atonement is really about the brutal, painful awakening of a child struggling to come to terms with one senseless, venomous act she committed and that haunts her. The parallel with Gone with the Wind is facile, and there are numerous sequences, from a grueling hospital scene to a bravura war set-piece, that are reminiscent of the latter’s epic grandeur and virtuoso, unflinching cinematic approach. But Atonement is something quite unique...


The first act traces young Briony’s sexual initiation, and capture perfectly the blend of simmering emotional panic, revulsion and fascination that individuate this first venture into the mechanics of adult relationships. It's luminous, solar visual beauty is tainted by a pervading hum of sexual malaise, but Keira Knightley and James McAvoy deliver two exceptionally carnal, sensual performances, thus making Atonement one of the most burning, sophisticatedly voluptuous experience in recent memory. The second part, visually heightened by a much more assailing palette and a bold, lyrical arsenal of cinematic arabesques, sometimes struggles to find its pace, but its frantic intensity and savagery will grab you by the throat and never loosen its grip.

 

An unforgettable combo of visual virtuosity, romance and drama, Atonement is a powerhouse motion picture, superbly acted, which reaches vertiginous heights of visceral intensity and immediacy. By turns horrifying, heart-breaking and beautifully bucolic, this has the guts and heart of an instant classic. Has 21th century cinema reaped its Gone with the Wind already?

 

  

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