Atonement 6/10

Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Christopher Hampton, based on the novel by Ian McEwan
Cast: Kiera Knightley, James McAvoy, Romola Garai, Saoirse Ronan,
Brenda Blethyn, Vanessa Redgrave, Juno Temple
Runtime: 123 minutes

If you are looking for another review to tell you how Atonement is the
best acted, best adapted, best costumed (and so on) movie of the year,
please stop reading. I don't disagree with that. I simply feel duty-bound
to tell you why it is still a bad movie.

Atonement is a period piece, set in 1935 and onwards. It follows the life
of Briony Tallis (played by three actresses in the course of her life,
including Vanessa Redgrave). We see how her error of judgement
destroys the lives of at least two other people. She never does
actually 'atone' for her wrong, although she ultimately finds a way of
telling a second lie, more openly, to do the best she can in her own
head. Excessively high production values, superlative acting, and a
generally interesting story, blind to us the moral bankruptcy of our tale.
A tale that has moral values as its focus. We come out of the cinema
saying how interesting it was. But have accepted complicity in the same
errors it purports to address.

Cecilia Tallis (Kiera Knightley) lives a life of wealth and privilege in her
family's gothic mansion. She is having a tempestuous affair with Robbie
(James McAvoy), the housekeeper's son. Cecilia's younger sister, Briony,
is still a child. But Briony is at that cusp where hormones start to play
havoc. She has been raised in a typical atmosphere of sexual hypocrisy.
With an imagination informed more by her precocious skill as an author
and playwright, than any understanding of humanity, she is only too
ready to believe that most sex is evil. (Sex from a commoner is probably
worse.) It is not long before some indiscretions on the part of Cecilia
and Robbie allow Briony to form a wicked picture of the young man.

When Briony witnesses a genuinely horrific sexual act, she makes a
false accusation against Robbie. The power structures of wealth and
class soon close ranks with Briony. She spends the rest of her life not
only screwed up by Victorian values, but by her own over-arching sense
of guilt for what she has done. The real victim of the crime - and real
perpetrator - are tidied up as mere plot loose ends.

I have not read the book and cannot comment on whether the original
novel is as hypnotic, glossy - and essentially vacuous. But I am given to
understand that Ian McEwan is happy with the screen version.