Now in Cinemas: Reviews for January 31, 2008

Review: Joe Wright's Atonement, starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy

Reviews by Jason Pirodsky

Joe Wright´s masterful Atonement seduces the audience with breathtaking visuals while providing a devastating emotional ride. By the end, we´re dazzled and drained, in awe of this movie that has jerked us around with such ease. Halfway through there´s the shot that was famous as soon as the movie was released, a 5-minute unedited take on a Dunkirk beach that features thousands of extras and combines technical how-did-they-do-that trickery with stunning intimate detail. By then, however, the film had already won me over; while the final two acts don´t unfold in expected ways, the sheer expertise of the writing and filmmaking is simply magical.

Rating: Now in Cinemas: Reviews for January 31, 2008Now in Cinemas: Reviews for January 31, 2008Now in Cinemas: Reviews for January 31, 2008Now in Cinemas: Reviews for January 31, 2008

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Directed by Joe Wright. Starring Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Vanessa Redgrave, Saoirse Ronan, Harriet Walter, Brenda Blethyn, Juno Temple, Benedict Cumberbatch, Gina McKee, Anthony Minghella. Written by Christopher Hampton, from the novel by Ian McEwan.

Now in Cinemas: Reviews for January 31, 2008 Showtimes
Now in Cinemas: Reviews for January 31, 2008 IMDb link

On the brink of WWII at an isolated English estate, Celia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) are about to fall in love; but Celia´s sister, 13-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronen) sees the wrong things, reads the wrong letter, and makes a decision that will have irreparable repercussions to the lives of the two lovers, and herself, as well. If you´ve read the novel, you know what happens next; if you haven´t, I envy the experience you´re about to have. Christopher Hampton´s screenplay feels like a vivid (if condensed) recreation of Ian McEwan´s novel; many scenes play out word-for-word, while the biggest change is a sly degree of vagueness. Motivation isn´t as clearly spelled out for us here, particularly in the key event; while those who haven´t read the novel may draw slightly different interpretations of McEwan´s intentions, I highly appreciated the amount of ambiguity left in the film, and the differing readings it allows.

McAvoy and Knightly shine as the doomed lovers, though they are generally playing supporting roles to the hands of fate. Ronan is exceptional as the vivid, conflicted young Briony, setting the bar high for performances by Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave as the character later in life. Wright displays a striking eye for visuals and the undoubted sure-hand of an auteur here that I found lacking in his previous feature, 2005’s Pride and Prejudice; technical aspects – cinematography, editing, music – are superb, and everything is beautifully woven together. A masterpiece; a rare film that not only lives up to the acclaimed book it is based upon, but perhaps even surpasses it.

Nominated for 7 Oscars, including Best Picture; in most years, it would win the top prize, but 2007 has been an exceptional year in film.


Also opening: Občan Havel (showtimes | IMDb), a documentary from Pavel Koutecký and Miroslav Janek on Václav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic. Culled from 13 years of behind-the-scenes footage, pic is screening in Czech but an English-subtitled print can be found at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům.

And: Frédéric Forestier and Thomas Langmann’s Astérix aux jeux olympiques (Asterix at the Olympic Games, showtimes | IMDb), a continuation of the long-popular (in France, at least) Astérix series, starring Clovis Cornillac, Gérard Depardieu, Alain Delon, Jean-Pierre Cassel, and others. Screening in a Czech-dubbed version on Prague screens.

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