Directed by: Joe Wright
Written by:Christopher Hampton
Starring: James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave, Romola Garai, Brenda Blethyn
Released: December 26, 2007
Grade: A

Briony Tallis (Ronan) is a 13-year-old girl who lives with her family in a lavish mansion on a large estate.  She speaks beautifully and eloquently.  You can tell that she is extremely well educated.  It’s no surprise that she dreams of being a famous writer.  At the same time, you’ll sense an immaturity in Briony.  It’s what you’d expect from a spoil young girl who loves being the centre of attention.

Looking out her bedroom window one afternoon, Briony sees something.  Her elder sister, Cecilia (Knightley), appears to be having an argument with Robbie (McAvoy), the good-looking son of the family’s housekeeper.  Cecilia storms off and Robbie is left standing there.  Briony is curious as to what just happened.  She has had her own crush on Robbie for a number of years.  Is there something going on between Cecilia and Robbie that she isn’t aware of?

Her suspicions are confirmed that very afternoon.  Robbie asks Briony to deliver a secret letter to Cecilia.  It was meant for Cecilia’s eyes only but Briony can’t help herself and reads the letter.  She is stunned by its contents (you’ll have to see the film to find out why) but it does reveal Robbie’s true feelings.  In a state of shock, Briony passes the letter on to Cecilia and quickly retreats to her bedroom.

That evening, a special dinner has been prepared.  Briony’s brother and a few of her cousins have come home for a family visit.  In the aftermath of dinner, a crime will be committed.  In a haze of confusion and jealousy, Briony points the finger at Robbie.  Despite knowing that it was not Robbie, Broiny tells the police that she saw him commit the crime.

My plot overview covers much of the film’s first half.  In the second hour, we pan into the future and learn that Robbie went to jail.  He was released after a few years under the condition that he join the British Army and fight the French in World War II.  There’s a great scene where we see him walking on the beaches at Dunkirk.

Despite all that happened, the love between Robbie and Cecilia was as strong as ever.  They may not have been able to see each other but they wrote constantly.  Cecilia continually pleaded with Robbie to “come back to me”.  As Briony grew up, she would realise the gravity of her mistake.  Was there anything she could do to “atone” for her foolish actions?

Atonement is a simple story told beautifully by screenwriter Christopher Hampton (The Quiet American) and director Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice).  It is adapted from the book written by Ian McEwan, which won Time Magazine’s best fiction novel of 2001.  The finale (involving veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave) caught me off guard.  I could not have imagined a more appropriate ending.

The film has been touted as a possible Oscar contender and these claims are well and truly justified.  Every performance is terrific.  It’s a breakout role for James McAvoy (following his brilliance in The Last King Of Scotland) which should generated a lot of positive publicity.  Keira Knightley has proven once again (after Pride & Prejudice) that she the acting talent to match her good looks.  Newcomer Saoirse Ronan (as the young Briony) is incredibly impressive given her young age.

It was Joe Wright’s direction of the film which sealed the deal for me.  He magically weaves the story in a way that we can see events from a variety of perspectives.  It’s not done obviously though.  You’ll be watching the screen and then realise that you’ve seen this before.  He has also conjured an inventive soundtrack with the help of composer Dario Marianelli (Pride & Prejudice).  Who’d have thought that a typewriter could be a musical instrument?

Atonement tells an absorbing story in a creative manner.  What more could you want?