Thursday, May 01, 2008

Full Strength Film Club Enjoys "Atonement"

Last night saw the first midweek film club. We'd postponed from Sunday as Mrs The Millbrooker & I were off doing all sorts of other stuff.

In the manner of a good old Capstan, film club was up to full strength with Frankenkeith now recovered from his catering crisis, Dong not being out throwing beer mats around and Shazzerooneypoos in the mood for a film she'd seen before.

I think that Auntie Sharon was the only film club regular who had seen Atonement before, courtesy of her reduced price tickets to The Vue which she gets by dint of being a land registry-er.

So, Joe Wright's 2007 family-saga-cum-romance Atonement. Simply described in simple (and grammatically incorrect) sentences: big budget. Epic. Mainstream. Not the usual film club fare, but well worth the investment of a couple of hours.
The story concerns a wealthy family whom we discover in the mid 1930s at their country house awaiting the visit of a brother. Europe is about to descend into war as the younger menfolk are all too aware. However, the youngest sister, Briony, is entirely wrapped up in her own world of playwrighting and the fairly typical fantasies of a thirteen year old girl. It is her obsession with dramatising that leads to a lie which irrevocably changes the lives of those around her forever.

Any further description of the storyline would need to have a screaming headline letting you know it contains "spoilers", so to find out more, you'll just have to watch it. And I recommend that you do.

What's the film good at, what does it manage to achieve? Joe Wright is unafraid to let matters unfold slowly; never a bad thing, although I reckon Atonement could have been shaved by ten or fifteen minutes without losing dramatic impact. The opening scenes during which the characters are established slowly bring us into the narrative; we are allowed to discover the undercurrents within the central Tallis family for ourselves.

The characters are pretty much of the off-the-shelf variety, it doesn't take a lot of imagination or insight to spot the honourable working class boy, the stuck up bitch, the cad etc etc. Yet this doesn't detract from the film - quite the opposite, it allows you the freedom to concentrate on the complexities of their motives and emotions.

The screenplay is occasionally a bit clunky; Christopher Hampton sometimes feeling the need to labour a point which is much more eloquently made by the cinematography. For example during the scenes of the evacuation at Dunkirk we are told in dialogue that it looks like "something out of the bible". We can see that for ourselves, thank you.Through all this, the story is powerfully told and Wright uses plenty of directorial know-how to keep you riveted to the screen. The denouement is a mighty pull on the heart strings as atonement is attempted for past sins.

The performances are solid and believable, with a particularly fine appearance by the marvellous Vanessa Redgrave. I'm still not convinced that Keira Knightley can actually act, but she gives it a damn good try and her performance doesn't jar so she's doing something right. A special mention, though, should go to Saoirse Ronan (I have not a clue how to pronounce her first name). Aged around twelve or thirteen at the time of filming (born 1994), she gives a brilliantly understated performance as the young Briony Tallis - just the right side of irritating and self-righteous without being so over-the-top as to become unbelievable.

The film boasts a decent twist in its tail, with an elegant conceit revealed in the last moments; don't whip out for a cuppa before the end, you'll miss half the point of the whole thing.

So, another thumbs up. No dissenters within film club, we all liked this one. It ain't hugely deep and meaningful, but it is an epic tale well told and provides an excellent evening's entertainment.

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