January 26, 2008


An overripe, bombastic melodrama which went out of style 50 years ago, Atonement regurgitates all the best bits of The English Patient and Cold Mountain without the emotional core, subtlety, or originality which made The English Patient worth watching.
The first third of the movie consists of the fateful events of a hot summer day at an English manor in 1935. Fate, bad luck, misunderstandings, and precocious pre-teen imagination are stirred together in a completely implausible stew. The combination is so overcomplicated and unlikely that it's only believeable in real life. Too bad this story is based on a contemporary novel. The end result condemns an innocent man Robbie (James McEvoy) to prison for raping a teenage girl in the bushes. Just that night he had pledged his love to Cecelia (Keira Knightley) during an ill-advised hump on a bookcase.
Robbie and Cecelia are separated by prison, and later, he is drafted out of prison and shipped to France to fight the Nazis. While he strolls through a World War II Cliches Greatest Hits, Cecelia writes love letters from the home front, while her teenage sister Briony (Saoirse Ronan), the girl whose unreliable eyewitness account condemned Robbie to prison, tries to scrub the blood from her hands by nursing war vets in a London hospital.
Most of this could have been assembled from existing movies. All of it has been done better before, and the old-fashioned style is embarassing at times. During a tearful farewell at a bus stop, Robbie exclaims "I hope this bus never comes!" Then Cecelia boards the bus, it pulls away, and Robbie chases it down the street until it turns out of sight. I don't care about characters whose feelings are expressed via reheated melodrama cliches from old movies.
I may be the only person who has not liked Atonement: A pile of awards plus a Best Picture Oscar nomination, Rotten Tomatoes lists a 87% freshness rating, placing me in the distinct minority, anyways.
THEATER NOTES: My first visit to Manville, New Jersey, and the Reading Cinemas Manville 12-plex. Big thanks to my sister-in-law Rebecca for taking us to Manville, and putting us up in her BB&B (Becca's Bed and Breakfast)!