If you watch enough movies, every now and again there will be a film that will come along and wow you with how wonderful it is. Typically, these films touch you on an emotional level, whether that is sadness, happiness, fear or even love. When we find these films, it’s a special moment and for most of us, they’re the reason we love movies and spend so much time watching life come alive in cinemas across the nation. For me, ATONEMENT is one such movie. It’s a near flawless film that succeeds on every level.
Typically, I go into specifics on plot points, but I’m going to refrain from doing that here because there’s a specific moment that shapes the entire film and that point comes relatively early on. For me, it was a very intense and powerful scene and I would hate to be responsible for ruining that for anyone that is not aware of what happens. But the film revolves around the love between Robbie (James McAvoy) and Cecilia (Keira Knightley) as they deal with the various environmental factors that effect their relationship, including WWII, their families, their social status and most notably, Cecilia’s little sister (Saoirse Ronan).
But this isn’t your typical love story. In most romantic films, you spend a lot of time with the two lovers as you become involved with their relationship and then have to root for them to get together at the end. In ATONEMENT, it’s not so simple. We spend very little time with them and instead follow the two lovers as they deal with being apart for so long. Each has to cope with the distance between them in their own way, even though that distance is the direct result of a specific moment. Meanwhile, director Joe Wright plays with the audience remarkably, always giving us hope that something positive will come from the hardships we’re witnessing. What’s more impressive is that we actually do care about these characters and their love for each other, even though we didn’t have much setup time building their relationship.
Of course, as a fan of the long, moving shots in movies, I have to pause to heap massive amounts of praise upon Wright and his cinematographer, Seamus McGarvey. Said scene comes when Robbie is walking through a WWII camp after a long journey. After the nearly eight minute scene concluded, I had to literally catch my breath because I didn’t realize that I was nearly breathless for the entire scene. Thinking about it now, I’m still in awe as to how this scene was pulled off. It’s arguably the most impressive long shot in film history and is something you will want to watch over and over when the film makes its way to Blu-ray.
I also can’t give enough praise to Ms. Knightley and Mr. McAvoy, who both turn in their best performances to date. That’s saying a lot given McAvoy’s great performances in LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and BECOMING JANE, among others. And Keira Knightley has such a captivating screen presence that she commands you to pay attention to her whenever she’s in front of the camera. The cast all around was impressive, but these two were magnificent. Their performances are a big reason this is such an outstanding film.