Original Rating: 8.78/10
Short Explanation: The movie Atonement was a beautifully shot, well-acted film that deserves every award that it won, however, in conjunction with its author, the movie dragged in places where the action promised to be at its highest.
Who doesn’t love a movie starring Kiera Knightley? From Bend It Like Beckham to Never Let Me to The Imitation Game, Kiera Knightley never fails to fully capture the character that she is meant to play. And what about James McEvoy? Stoic, strong, and yet somehow managing to portray every emotion that Robbie felt throughout the movie without overacting. These two make the perfect pair of lovers. But what about the scorned younger sister? Where does she come into play? Saorise Ronan, with her startling blue eyes that expressed the same calculation that Briony possessed in the novel, made a perfect anti-hero (I wouldn’t go as far as to call her an antagonist). With a superstar cast such as this, it appears that Atonement promises to be the closest book to movie adaptation that I’ve seen in a while. Character wise, from the quick-to-grow-up Lola to the crippled Emily Tallis to the hair-raising Paul Marshall, we see that McEwan’s characters were brought to light in as realistic a way possible with one exception.
Briony Tallis lost the character progression throughout the movie that made it almost possible to sympathize with her at the end of McEwan’s novel. Through the movie, it seems that we almost don’t catch a glimpse of why Briony committed the crime that she did. The director, Joe Wright, almost seems to dismiss Briony’s actions as the result of a petty crush, instead of bringing forward the complex motives behind her actions. In the novel, we see Briony as a girl who was used to getting the center of attention and she had hoped that in the case of Robbie Turner, that would be no exception: “This was precisely why she loved plays, or hers at least; everyone would adore her” (McEwan 11). Ronan does a brilliant job of portraying this aspect of her as a young child. I feel as though her desire for control that was emphasized throughout the novel was almost lost in the movie, aside from her attempting to control Lola after she was raped, which was one of the best scenes adapted in this movie (but still not the best).
As for Lovely Lola, the question of the day is, who raped Lola? In the book, it was very clearly Paul Marshall. How do I know, you may ask? I know because McEwan almost explicitly stated it: “It was Paul Marshall” (McEwan 327). I say “almost” explicitly stated it because this tidbit of information was embedded in Briony’s novel’s apology to her sister and Robbie. However, we also know that Briony manages to recall that during Paul Marshall had scratches on his face. This appears to be McEwan’s way of telling the reader who really did it, but in the movie, the question still stands: who raped Lola?
While we’re on the subject of Briony’s “apology” to her sister and Robbie, this brings up the question of what was the best adapted scene in the movie? In my eyes, it was that scene due to the dynamic expressed between Robbie and Cecilia in that scene, the intimacy that was carefully crafted through McEwan’s breathless imagery and Wright’s filmography. The idea that Briony was an intruder on an intimate moment was beautifully shown through Ronan’s hesitation before turning to face the window. The tension between Knightley and McEvoy in the early scenes of the movie was beautifully converted into love in that moment when Cecilia attempted to calm Robbie down and emphasizes the idea that she was his anchor to life. As for McEvoy, this is the scene that I would gift him every Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe possible due to the way that he acted out his barely contained anger towards Briony. In his eyes, we see fury, but in his words we feel it, just as McEwan intended: “I’ll be quite honest with you, I’m torn between breaking your stupid neck here and taking you outside and throwing you down the stairs” (McEwan 322).
Referring back to our short explanation, the movie did have its slow moments, as any movie does. The transition between the crime committed and Dunkirk was slow and the filmography was dark and though it was keeping in tone with McEwan’s writing style for that section of the novel, it was easy to nod off during some parts. Dunkirk itself was dull, the only brightening parts being during Robbie’s memories of Cecilia. I thought that Wright slowing the pace of the Dunkirk scenes was almost symbolic of the story itself. Atonement is a novel/movie based on consequences of spoken words, having the movie’s promising high action points be nearly overshadowed by the words exchanged by Cecilia and Robbie through letters reinforces that emphasis on the importance of words and the impact they have on human worth. It was quite brilliant actually.
There are changes within the movie, minor and major, such as the lack of POV during the first part of the movie, the way that the epilogue was incorporated as an interview when in the novel it had more of a letter feel and described her life at that point in time. The one part I was disappointed that wasn’t incorporated was the scene in the novel where Cecilia was trying on the different dresses before settling on the green dress: “On two occasions within half an hour, Cecilia stepped out of her bedroom, caught sight of herself in the gilt-frame mirror at the top of the stairs and, immediately dissatisfied, returned to her wardrobe to reconsider” (McEwan 90). I wanted to see the look on Cecilia’s face when she cast her disapproving glance over herself and grew frustrated with the clothes in closet. It would’ve added some much needed humor to the movie that, in this scene, had been incorporated within McEwan’s novel.
The best part of the movie was that it was a fairly faithful adaption. Yes, the movie didn’t quite capture the almost amusing tone that was present in some parts of the novel, but it did capture the tone of the novel nearly perfectly at Dunkirk. I felt as though the movie incorporated the most important parts of the novel while keeping with McEwan’s picturesque novel. It was almost as though he had written this novel for the big screen and Joe Wright certainly didn’t miss his opportunity to create an award winning movie.
Afterthought Rating: 9.35/10
Concluding Explanation: In the afterthoughts, I truly believe that McEwan’s novel was faithfully incorporated and as a film it managed to captivate the audience’s attention (in most parts) and create a movie that incorporated the major parts of a masterpiece including and still bringing forward McEwan’s commentary on the importance of words.