(Keira Knightley, James Mcavoy, et al / DVD / R / (2007) 2008 / Universal)
Overview: 'Atonement' 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.
DVD Verdict: 'Atonement' - nominated for an incredible 7 Academy Awards including Best Picture - ranks as one of the classiest love stories told in recent years, boosted by some brilliant color photography, a lyrical background score, a well crafted script, and some fine ensemble performances. Keira Knightley sometimes falters with her too clipped way of speaking and throwing away important lines, but otherwise the cast is impeccable.
Basically it's a dreamy looking tale of a wealthy family enjoying the summer days in the English countryside and there are hints of a gentle romance going on between a rather snobbish young woman (Knightley) and a handyman at her father's estate (James MacAvoy). Their obvious infatuation with each other only incites jealousy in her younger sister Briony (amazing performance from Saoirse Ronan), who happens to spy on them from an upper window. She's a girl who once threw herself at the young man by pretending to drown so that he would jump in and rescue her. He does, but is annoyed when he realizes she purposely exposed them both to danger.
From that point on, the plot moves forward and backward in a structure that never becomes clumsy even though it moves between past events and present to tell the tale of how a single lie changes the course of three lives. In director Joe Wright's hands, the tale never becomes maudlin or too complicated to follow and we see the development of strong characters and are satisfied, by the conclusion, that the tale has been told in a very effective way.
Vanessa Redgrave comes in toward the end, as the older version of the young woman who told a lie, and she has some surprising comments to make that wind up the tale in an oddly affecting way. However, the standout performances are given by Ronan as young Briony and McAvoy. McAvoy is impressive throughout, totally in command of a difficult role, almost emotionally draining in the film's detailed war scenes that have him wandering around in an almost shell-shocked manner. His confrontational moments with the eighteen year-old Briony (Ramola Garai) are brilliantly played by both performers.
Many stories have been told where a lie at the very center plays a part in extending the whole tale. This one is very powerful and yet, at the core, remains a tender love story of tremendous emotional depth. The background score by Dario Marianelli , distinguished by lots of piano music, is highly effective in creating the many changing moods of the multi-layered story. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of Atonement
From Novel to Screen: Adapting a Classic
Feature Commentary with Director Joe Wright