Wright, Knightley reunite for ‘instant classic’

In 2005, director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley – best known for her work in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy – brought the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice to the big screen, earning much acclaim for the reverent, elegant manner in which the tale was translated. Now, Wright and Knightley reunite to bring another heartbreaking love story to life with Atonement.

Based on the 2002 Ian McEwan novel and set in the summer of 1935, the film recounts the doomed love story of Cecilia Tallis (Knightley) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland). When Cecilia’s younger sister, budding teenage playwright Briony (Saoirse Ronan) falsely accuses Robbie of a horrific crime, he is immediately taken away, leaving Cecilia to pine for him and await his return. In order to escape prison, Robbie joins the military to fight in World War II while a grown-up Briony realizes the terrible mistake she had made and searches for a way to set things right.

Because the novel spanned many years in the lives of three principal characters, the film was forced to distill 400 pages of source material to a narrative core. Despite the abridgement, Atonement manages to effectively convey the story in just over two hours. Although there are a handful of brief moments that seem to drag down the film’s pace upon its initial viewing, these instances turn out to be a significant part of the storytelling.

While the story is solid, the performances help the emotions resonate with the audience, creating a deep connection between viewers and characters that is lacking in many of today’s films. Because the director takes time to establish the characters before the fateful incident, the ensuing emotional torment they all endure is effectively poignant. Across the board, the cast – especially the three leads – captures the tone of each scene, bringing the story to life with the verve and passion it deserves.

Another of the film’s strong points is its hauntingly beautiful score by Academy Award-nominated composer Dario Marianelli (Pride and Prejudice, V for Vendetta). His intricate melodies encapsulate the heartbreaking circumstances that befall Cecilia and Robbie, as well as the burden of guilt that Briony must bear and the horrors of war Robbie witnesses in his military tenure. One scene in paarticular in which a large group of soldiers congregate by the coast of Dunkirk – showcases both the power of Marianelli’s music and the film’s striking cinematography.

With seven Golden Globe nominations and a genuine shot at the Academy Award for Best Picture, the film deserves the praise it’s received. Using the framework of a love story to comment on the momentous life-changing effects a single decision can make, Atonement is a near-flawless instant classic that will likely take its place in film history as one of the most memorable tragic love stories ever made.

Grade: ARun Time: 130 min.Rating: R