"Atonement" Review

Title: Atonement
Director: Joe Wright
Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley
Studio: Universal Pictures
Genre(s): Drama
Rated: R (For disturbing war images, sexuality and nudity)

“Atonement” has all the makings of an American classic. It tells the story of love, jealously, and betrayal, all set to the theme of World War II. The WWII may be a bit overplayed at times, but hey, the film makers must have decided if it worked for “Gone With The Wind” then it should work for “Atonement.” It does at times, though I must admit the whole WWII aspect of storytelling is getting very old at this point in the game. While there are moment of raw brutality and immense power in some of these scenes, the movie is at it’s best when it focuses on the real heart of the story: That a girl sees something that she thinks she understands, and tells a lie, thus destroying the lives of many people, her own included. The girl in question is Briony Tallis, an aspiring writer who has just finished writing her first play.
Upon finishing the play though, she witnesses her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley in another Oscar worthy performance) supposingly being attacked by local farm boy Robbie Turner (James McAvoy). Though the act she witnesses is an act of love as opposed to an act of violence, she nevertheless reports Robbie as a rapist, and Robbie is sent to jail for four years. Though most movies would watch Robbie learn to cope with being separated from his true love in a jail cell, the movie instead skips forward a few years to show us a similar and, in some ways, crueler jail in the real world. This is where WWII comes into the picture, and all three are serving their country. Robbie in battle, Cecilia and Briony in the hospitals. Robbie and Cecilia have to live without each other. Even sadder, Briony has to live with herself now that she’s come to terms with what she’s done.
“Atonement” is, first and foremost, tragedy. These are good people. Some of these people do stupid things, but they mean well. Some of these people don’t deserve what they receive, but, like real people, have to play with the bad deck of cards they’ve been dealt. Worse then being dealt a bad hand, at times it feels like the dealer of that hand cheated. While we’re on the whole poker analogy, I want to mention that sometimes I feel that movies of this kind are like poker games themselves. Several of these epic tragedies are made a year. Some of them work, some of them don’t. Some even come close before falling in the end. It’s amazing that “Atonement” manages to set up it’s situations and characters in ways that don’t feel cheap or fake. With any other director and cast this movie might have been mugging the camera for praise.
Thankfully this movie doesn’t feel fake, but feels real. It feels as real as the tears on Cecilia’s face when she realizes that she has been betrayed so horribly by her younger sister. Later on in her life, when Briony is no longer a child, she has one of this years saddest moments. A scene of true emotion and authenticity, where we see someone come to the realization of what they have done, and how much they truly messed up. Though people cannot change the sins of the past, they can do what they can to atone for them. Even if, as some characters find out, that atonement does not factor in receiving forgiveness from those they’ve wronged.

Parents have little to worry about: The action is intense and high, but it's also cartoony and video-gamish. Language is mild and there's a "close to" sex scene that yields a few laughs. Should be okay for 10 and up.