Saturday, September 22, 2007

Must Do Better

Atonement, Odeon Telford, Saturday September 22 2007, 2.45pm.

Joe Wright's film adaptation of Ian McEwan's Atonement (2007) is seemingly this season's middle-brow must-see on the multiplex menu. If, like your clueless correspondent, you haven't read the book, it's difficult to neatly summarise the plot, which spans from the 30s to the late 90s, taking in decadence, Dunkirk and duplicity in its tale of thwarted love, sexual mores and laboured revisionism.

Wright aims to pull off a literary adaptation with as much visual flair as fierce intelligence, and the first half of the film, set in a sumptuous country mansion (Shropshire's Stokesay Court, film location fact fans) on a hot summer's day, shows an acute attention to detail that builds up a palpable sense of dread more in keeping with a noir thriller than a period piece. Unfortunately, for this viewer at least, the tension steadily dissipates through the second half, the lack of authoritive narrative voice necessitated by the project's tricksy conceit resulting in a reduced punch to the wartime scenes. Also, the film's climax, designed no doubt to drain you of every tear, left your head-scratching hack with mixed feelings difficult to describe without revealing the 'twist'.

This isn't to say the film isn't worth watching - the first half is brilliantly enough executed to merit the ticket cost alone, James McEvoy is often sensational as the passionate private and Keira Knightley delivers her most effective performance to date, as well as looking suitably fetching in a wet slip. Would also add another rider that this may be a movie that merits a second or third viewing to fully appreciate all the nuances in a script that strives to work on several levels, so perhaps it should be a case of least said, soonest mended.

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