Undeniably, Atonement is an excellent example of mature, intelligent filmmaking at its finest. Coupled with the fantastic and unique musical score(the sound of a typewriter as an 'instrument'), it's a transfixing combination of images and music. Keira Knightley further proves that she's one of the finest young actress working today, exhibiting a kind of elegance in speech and demeanor that is sorely lacking in other Hollywood actresses, particularly Americans. But it is James McAvoy that ultimately shines. It's funny how great actors & actresses now are found outside of America.
Another noteworthy scene is the 'tracking shot' at the beach. It's proof enough of the technical excellence of the film, and reason enough for Joe Wright to be nominated for Best Director.
However, the end result did not measure up to the technical bravura. And that is disappointing. I've never read the book it was based on(I rarely read any novels anyways), so maybe i have little right to judge the material. But a book is a book, a film is a film. I'll judge this for what it is, or how it is. The early 70% of the film is gold. It's entirely engrossing and emotionally wrenching. But sadly, it falls apart by the last act. I felt that the resolution was far less than satisfying, and missed the mark of the 'heartbreaking finale' it was probably going for. And yes, I do get the messages of 'the power of lies', 'the power of writing' and 'how do one atone for sins of the past'. But the resolution did not complement the events leading up to it. Simply put, it's just that I felt cheated by the end of it. It has left me wondering of the relevancy of an earlier scene, and I felt less than impressed by the manipulative method of that act.
///Possibility of minor spoilers!////
Maybe by looking at it another way, it would make a little more sense. But it's kind of far-fetched and it would seem ambitious to a fault. This paragraph may look a bit 'messy'(I'm no writer anyway), but here goes. The finale is just like what Briony did to Robbie and Cecilia. A lie. A betrayal. Both another form of betrayal by Briony to them, and a betrayal to the viewer. It basically jumps out and drags us into the same predicament as the characters. Whether we, could handle that 'lie'. Further stresses the themes I mentioned above, particularly on 'the power of writing'. The film itself 'is' Briony: manipulative. In retrospect, it questions our early 'expectations' of the fate of the characters. We are very much like Briony, we really hoped that both of them could be together by the end;a happy ending. But if it was not meant to be, would a lie suffice? Would a lie be better, just so that it would be of comfort, like the dying soldier in the ward. Ultimately the film juggles imagination and reality in itself, and in our minds.
Atonement works best as a romance film. Keira Knightley's and James McAvoy's performances provide a believable love story. The cinematography, the setting, art direction, the music, and directing are all top-notch. It would be amongst the truly great films of this year, if one could only overlook the 'trippy' finale. To me however, that is one sin the film could not atone for.