Director Joe Wright ("Pride and Prejudice") gives Ian McEwan’s bestselling novel a sumptuous treatment for the screen that should come to be regarded as one of the defining films of the epic romantic drama. Indeed, everything about this film stems from those three words: there is little here that is not epic, romantic, and dramatic, and "Atonement" is a film that masterfully expresses the overarching sense of adventure and emotion that such stories are meant to convey. In this instance, the story centers around the love story of highborn Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley) and housekeeper’s son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy, in a star-making turn), in England shortly before World War II. Despite their class differences, they are powerfully attracted to each other, and just as their relationship begins Robbie is tragically forced away due to false accusations from Cecilia’s younger sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan). She has a crush on Robbie, too, and after reading a! private letter he sent to Cecilia, and then witnessing the first expression of their mutual love but mistaking it for mistreatment, her resentment grows until it leads to her telling the lie that will send Robbie away. Soon World War II breaks out; Robbie enlists and is posted to France, Cecilia is a nurse in London, and Briony, now age 18 and aware of what she has done, tries to atone for her actions--but none of them will be able to get back what they have lost. Knightley and McAvoy are perfectly cast as the young star crossed lovers, and the young Ronan is particularly impressive, but it’s clear that the real star of this film is the director. Wright allows "Atonement" to revel in every moment of its story and each scene is compelling in its own way, but that now famous extended shot with Robbie on the beach at Dunkirk--filmed in one take and sure to be considered one of the great long tracking shots in film history--is the most memorable moment in this remarkable ! film. "Atonement" is an excellent example of what can hap! pen when a great book meets great filmmaking. This is one that is not to be missed. --"Daniel Vancini"
Stills from "Atonement" (click for larger image).