Atonement (Joe Wright, 2007)

Just what the hell was this movie trying to be?  Epic love story?  War film?  Period drama?  All of the above?  I don’t know, and frankly I don’t think the film itself knows either.  The first half hour or so, entirely within the setting of the mansion, was wonderful in its set-up of distinct characters, situations, and relationships.  It had the feel of a stage play that could actually work.  Plenty of intrigue and interest so that this itself felt “epic.”  But then comes the years-long effects of one girl’s misunderstanding, and this is where the film takes a swan-dive, hoping to make the splash to end all splashes, and just takes a belly-flop.  What it was supposed to be was a look a three fractured lives put in extraordinary situations they simply should not be in (or 2 1/2 situations, since the movie doesn’t have a fucking clue where to situate itself), but what I saw was a movie that considered itself way more important and “epic” than it actually was.  What I saw was basically an exercise in style, to the point that the characters were portrayed in a way that i just couldn’t care about them.  Sure, there’s that continuous take on the war-ravaged beach that’s easily one of the most impressive visual feats I’ve ever seen in a film, but that was purely for its aesthetic value and nothing else.  So much…stuff going on, of course meant to show in as grand a way as possible how lives can be ruined by a single event, but damned if I could connect all the grand sights and sounds and separate storylines into a cohesive whole.  At least the ending was perfectly appropriate and put things in their proper place, but what I saw was basically the beginning of an excellent movie, the rest of an average-to-decent movie, all of which could have been tweaked into one great film experience.

8/10

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