Posted by: Nathan | April 9, 2008

Atonement Surprised Me

Sure, I heard all about the movie Atonement when it came out with all the great critical reviews and shots of Keira Knightly gazing longingly into the camera. Then it was up for best picture. But here at AQ, we wait until it comes to our door via Netflix, so J & I just watched it the other night.

I expected this movie to be one of those “epic love/war stories” that are always up for best picture, and it kind of was. I’m talking about the movies where our heroes fall in love and then the guy has to go to war (any war is fine) and maybe he dies and maybe she dies or they both die–outside chance that they manage to meet again. Atonement does that in part, but the most interesting character is neither of the protagonists pictured left: it’s Cecilia’s little sister Briony. She drives the plot in a way that I absolutely will not reveal. The film is an interesting spin on a movie cliché.

For me, the movie has three parts (I’m always making things have three parts…hmm): Pt. 1: exposition and big moment; Pt. 2: fallout of the big moment and war; Pt. 3: unexpected ending. The best parts were one and three. The beginning is the longest section and the most beautiful as well. J & I foresaw most of the plot events, but they are still engaging. The cinematography is quite lovely–almost too lovely. There are a couple of shots of Cecilia smoking and then Robbie smoking. Then back to Cecilia. I thought, “Ok, we get it. You can shoot beautifully and these people are attractive, especially while smoking.” But overall it is great.

Section two is the second longest and sloppiest. Once Robbie goes overseas, the plot disappears. There are “significant moments,” but overall J & I kept wondering, “What’s going on?” This section doesn’t present you with confusing images or anything, but it drops everything to show you whatever the director feels like showing you. The worst part is when Robbie and two other guys find Dunkirk beach and wander around for ten minutes. Nothing happens. It’s the typical “You couldn’t imagine what war was like until this moment, but now I’m showing you” scene that permeates war movies. It drags.

Thankfully, the third part comes. It’s quick and powerful. The denouement is both unexpected and emotionally charged. In this part you finally, fully see why the movie has its title and what the atonement costs.

It isn’t amazing, but it’s definitely worth watching. It’s rated “R” (like pirate movies) for sexual content and graphic war images, but neither are as bad as I expected. There’s no nudity, and nobody gets their head blown off in a bomb. There is no shortage of adult content, but if violence or nudity is keeping you from watching this one, you shouldn’t worry too much about it.

J loves it; I like it: 8/10, B+. I haven’t read any Ian McEwan (the guy who wrote the novel upon which the film is based), but I think that this story would be a better novel than movie. Still, it’s a watchable film.



  1. Thanks for the review. M and I haven’t watched this, but it’s in our queue. ‘Juno’ just arrived today, so that’ll be the first one we tackle. We’re excited.

  2. We checked the Redbox machine at the grocery store yesterday, but they were (unsurprisingly) out of Juno. I hope to see both of these sometime soon.

  3. I saw Atonement a while ago when it was in theatres, and I was so surprised by the ending that it kind of jolted me out of joint with the movie. I won’t reveal what happens, but I agree with Nathan, it seemed like 2 different movies at least, if not 3. I think it’s a case of trying to interpret a book into a movie. There are some things that are hard to translate. I’m only giving this a B-.

    Plus, let me just say that I’m getting a little worn out on Keira Knightley. She’s apparently the go-to English actress for every role under the age of 40, and I’m “so over” her (to use an annoying phrase).

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