Monday, 25 July 2016

Atonement (2007)

In 1935, misconstrued circumstances and a fit of pique prompt a teenage girl to accuse her sister's lover of raping her friend.  The only people to believe in the young man's innocence are his mother and the sister, Cecilia.  Four years later, the young man is released from prison when he agrees to join the army.  Cecilia has remained in contact with him during his imprisonment - and has cut herself off from her family - and they resume their relationship prior to his departure to fight in France.

And France is where the wheels come off the film.

But before I complain, let's start with the positives of the movie.  It's beautifully shot and scored, and full of fine performances.  Saiorse Ronan picked up an Oscar nomination for her role as the teenage girl who makes the accusation, but she's far from the only one doing good work here.

If only they weren't giving those performances in such a willfully stupid and self-indulgent story.

The first but far from worst flaw of the film is its habit of playing games with the order in which it displays chronological events.  This gimmick is actually used quite successfully in some early scenes, where we get the younger sister's perspective on an event, and then the (significantly less sinister) real version.  The problem is that the film continues to use it at a time when it is no longer necessary nor helpful.

Much more problematic, however, is that it pulls the same "ha, the last forty minutes never actually happened!" nonsense as Repo Men.  And for all that this film is wonderfully shot, scored and acted, it's just as hollow and stupid a narrative choice here as it was there.

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