Saturday, December 22, 2007
Joe Wright's "Atonement"
In the past 20 years or so, American movie studios have become so preoccupied with comedies, action films and special effects that they've lost the knack for making what I think of as "normal" movies. Films about people connecting in a wholly human way.
They've fallen out of the habit of offering their patrons a full menu, so to speak, and one of the staples taken off the menu is the classically contoured love story. That genre is now fully owned by foreign filmmakers, most notably the British. It's easier to dismiss the genre with a derogatory, sexist term ("chick flicks"), as Americansare wont to do, rather than re-educate their filmmakers and audiences in the pleasures of variety.
Joe Wright's British-made "Atonement," an elegant, sinewy and yet basically simplistic film about love denied, is an excellent example of the kind of movie America has become (almost willfully) incapable to make anymore. Staged across several decades, thereby taking on a deceptive complexity and density, the film is really about two people, the camera that loves them and the lush music that soars around them. No more than that, and yet it's brilliant.
Keira Knightly and James McAvoy play a couple separated, irrevocably so, by a precocious child's lie (shades of Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour" here). Things will never be the same. But there's a crucial, deeply-felt subterranean plot that examines the sexual and eventual political awakening of the child in question, Briony Tallis, brought memorably to life in her early incarnation by the preternaturally gifted child actres Saoirse Ronan, with Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave taking over the role as Briony ages.
Based on Ian McEwan' best-seller, "Atonement" is a hearteningly mature, emotionally generous film that studies an inevitable yet thwarted love and the wars of the heart that accompany it.
(Artwork: Top: Saoirse Ronan, brilliant as the young Briony in the first act of Joe Wright's "Atonement." Bottom: Ronan with James McAvoy)
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Posted by joe baltake at 12:46 PM