Maybe I should read the book before I actually do a review on the film, but no one ever wrote these rules down so I think I have every right to break them. I doubt the literary police will come knocking at my door. With this review (or rather personal critique) I am expanding my blog to include reviews of films based on works of literature. Today’s feature is Atonement by Ian McEwan (film directed by Joe Wright screenplay by Christopher Hampton). I always wonder what the process is when a screenwriter writes a book, it becomes widely read, and then someone else writes the screenplay. One would think that it would be a natural progression for the original writer to adapt his own work of film, but then, I’m not in the business of making films. What do I know?
I’m not going to bother with much of a plot summary because my pet peeve in reviews is when people spend half of it on plot summary. Did no one take high school English? Basically it’s this: Sister sees older sister with childhood crush. Younger sister gets jealous and pins horrendous crime on said crush as revenge. Spends rest of movie “atoning” for sin.
I should have known from the reviews that I would not care for this film. When I was looking it up on Netflix I saw someone post something to the effect of, “If you love The English Patient you’ll like this film!” RED FLAG. I love me some British drama. I love me some good acting. I don’t love me some pacing problems. I can even handle the artsy-fartsy long-shots and brooding close-ups and scenes that are meant to illicit an emotional response without the proper set-up, now and again. However, I’ve found that when screenwriters (and directors) take a lengthy novel and attempt to adapt it to the screen (especially one with such gravitas as Atonement) they get so caught up in capturing the same weight of the novel that some of the effect is lost in translation.
I have one of those DVD players that lets you see the time of the film as you watch it. Meaning I can see the timer at 30mins when I’m thinking, “What’s the conflict in this movie? Where is this going?” There’s a lengthy set-up and this slow and delicate pace carries through the rest of the film. Through war, rain, sleet and snow. Not to mention a lack of focus (i.e.: which character am I following and whose story is this?). I imagine, in the novel, the story belongs to both sisters, but in the film it may have been beneficial to narrow it down to Briony (Romola Garai) since the second act seems to be going in that direction anyway and the film certainly ends on that note. I know I’m suppose to feel for Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy), but I don’t. I really don’t. I didn’t spend enough time with them and I really don’t think there is enough time. Even in a 2-hour film. The moments we spend with Briony are so powerful that we should have been given more time to see her perspective and her plight in the intermittent years. As it stands, she only reappears after “the incident” with about 45 mins left of film!
The acting is fantastic, the cinematography is wonderful, but oh that writing and oh that direction. Thanks Joe Wright, I am sufficiently drained.