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Vol. LXI, No. 49
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

SHE WAS HER SISTER BUT SHE DONE HER WRONG: Briony (Saoirse Ronan, bottom right) shares a pleasant moment with her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and later, Briony jealously destroys Cecilia’s romance with her boyfriend Robbie by falsely accusing him of raping another woman.

Atonement: Adaptation of Romance Novel Ultimately Unsatisfying

Kam Williams

How many times have you heard yourself say that the book was better? Well, add this historical drama to that list of disappointing screen adaptations. Based on Ian McEwan’s critically acclaimed romance novel of the same name, Atonement is an ambitious adaptation which takes license with conventional linear storytelling by periodically repeating scenes from slightly different perspectives.

The movie was directed by Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice) who crafted a vibrant and visually-stimulating film that, however, has an unsatisfactory plotline. Stripped of its cinematic pretensions and period costumes, the film is essentially a tale of unrequited love. It all revolves around a love triangle which separates two sisters, ruins a promising young man’s future, and leaves the girl responsible for the tragedy wracked with guilt for the rest of her life.

Set in the sprawling country estate of the Tallis family, the saga opens in England in 1935. There, we find our protagonist, 13 year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) staging her own plays with the help of her relatives. She also likes to spy on her big sister Cecilia’s (Keira Knightley) flirtations with their housekeeper’s handsome son, Robbie (James McAvoy).

Cecilia and Robbie, both students at Cambridge, have recently returned home for summer vacation. Although too young to turn his head, Briony also has a crush on Robbie. But because he only has eyes for her sibling, in her mind’s eye she begins to see Robbie as an out of control pervert.

This turns into tragedy the night she stumbles upon her Cousin Lola (Juno Temple) being raped by a stranger on the grounds outside the mansion. Because of Briony’s eyewitness testimony, Robbie is wrongly convicted of the crime and is sent to prison.

Fast forward a few years. World War II has broken out and ex-con Robbie has enlisted in the British Army and is participating in the evacuation of Dunkirk. Cecilia and Briony, who no longer speak to each other after the conviction of Robbie, are both nurses in London. Cecilia still pines for Robbie while Briony is overcome by guilt when she realizes that she has sent an innocent man to jail.

In an attempt to expiate her guilt, Briony, an aspiring writer, chronicles the course of Cecilia and Robbie’s undying love relationship in a novel called Atonement, a task which takes her sixty years to complete. On her deathbed, Briony (now portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave) resolves all the pieces of the puzzle, and makes you wonder why you’ve just emotionally invested a couple of hours in the film’s story.

Fair (1 star). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and disturbing war images. Running time: 116 minutes. Studio: Focus Features.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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