Atonement

When Ian MacEwan saw the movie version of his The Comfort Of Strangers (a damn fine film IMO) he commented that putting the page onto the screen only succeeded in highlighting the sheer abruptness of his tricksy ‘adolescent’ ending to the novel. What then, I wonder does he make of the big bucks Hollywood take on his unfilmable masterpiece Atonement?

Obviously the adaptation of such a tome couldn’t be trusted to someone as individual as Harold Pinter (as …Strangers was), but the choice of Christopher Hampton seems inspired. His translation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses is without a doubt course material in How To Do It 101. But, his superb handling of Graham Greene in The Quiet American is all the CV he needs for this job. And he has a pretty good stab at it. There’s some really howling cliches (she dives into a pool, he emerges from a bath) and it’s very hard to tell whether they’re deliberate (which is possible if you know hte story). Obviously there couldn’t be the deeply intricate layering of the novel, but a helluva lot is thrown out in favour of some right twaddle (dreams of soldiers walking off in fields of poppies in the sunset? c’mon). However, it’s not with the script that my main problem with this lies, as I said, it’s a decent stab and without resorting to some post-modern deconstrution of the novel. Probably as good as it could be done.

My biggest gripe would be with the sheer ‘cinematic’ scale of some of it. Director Joe Wright was responsible for the recent Pride And Prejudice-lite (not a contradiction in terms) and here he gets to do his Hallmark tv thing in even bigger strokes. Which is all fine in the smaller settings, but when it comes to Robbie’s epic trudge to Dunkerque is an excuse for one of those huge tracking shots that make film academics wet themselves. Filmed with no cgi, apparently, (every soldier is actually there) it acheives nothing other than to show us that Wright can set up a huge tracking shot. It no doubt is intended to tell us that war is hell and that it can also be a bit mad. Well, duh! It really only shows that it can be beautifully shot. Also, he’s managed to cover this in some brilliantly handled smaller scenes already. A victory for scale over true epicness.

Niow if the filming is dogged by overt use of eye candy, just look to the casting! This is being touted as Keira Knightly‘s greatest performance, yet. Which surely must be tantamount to describing some thing as the Stereophonics best song? Oh, she’s great to look at – as ever (if a bit too skinny, also as ever) – but James McAvoy‘s got a more believable posho english voice than she does. Thankfully they don’t really ask he to do much but look mopey a bit and scowl the rest of the time. Briony, the little sister of her character, gets played by three different actresses. Each one of them wipes the floor with her skinny ass. I actually felt sorry for how outplayed she was in most scenes. The rest of the cast range from solid to brilliant (particularly Saoirse Ronan as youngest Briony). There’s also a couple of woefully underused cameos from Brenda Blethyn and Gina McKee (where you been hiding).

If you’re never likely to read the book and thought that Babel was ‘challenging’: Go see it, it’ll make you feel good about yourself. If you think you’d like to read it: Do that instead, it’ll be a mcuh more rewarding experience. If you’ve already read the book and loved or loathed it: Read it again, it’ll be a more worthwhile use of your time.

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Written by Tony Kiernan

15 September 2007 at 10:21 pm

Posted in Film

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