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500 Five-Star: Atonement (2007)

June 25, 2011


It’s such a common saying: ‘Of course, the film can never be as good as the book’.  It’s also a saying that I try very hard never to utter.  Films and books are two completely different beasts.  One requires using your own imagination powered by words on a page, and the other requires trusting in someone else’s imagination to bring those words to life.  You’re always more likely to prefer your own exact visions to someone else’s, which is why it’s best to just separate the two entirely and judge both the book and film on their own merits within that medium.

With that said, I am now going to ignore everything that I’ve just written…because Atonement is a modern literary classic.  It is impossible not to discuss the film without making reference to the book that preceded it.  For a time it seemed like everyone in the country was reading Atonement and falling in love with it.  General consensus was that it couldn’t be made into a film; that the story would be impossible to get across on film and it would therefore be a completely pointless exercise.  Guess what?  That opinion could not have been more wrong.  And looking back, it seems so stupid; after all, the story of Atonement boils down to a treatise on the power held by imagination.  Director Joe Wright is one of the most imaginative directors out there, and as a result Atonement is not only a brilliant, brilliant piece of filmmaking, but if I was forced to choose, I would have to admit that I even actually preferred it to the book.

Of course, as per usual, I am slightly biased.  Wright is one of my absolute favourite directors-the visual flourishes within his films are always beautiful and add way more to a story than my paltry imagination could ever muster up.  Watching the five-minute tracking shot on Dunkirk Beach on the big screen is one of my most memorable cinematic experiences.  It’s incredible, and still hasn’t lost its power multiple viewings later.  The performances he brings out of the principal cast members are amazing, giving so much power and depth to their characters.  Keira Knightley has never been better, and the lack of an Oscar nomination for James McAvoy (as well as a directing one for Wright) was pretty much the point where I stopped having faith in the Academy’s choices.  Not a single second of the film is wasted; every little moment is designed to draw the viewer in ready for the gutpunching finale.  I’m not giving anything away, but tissues will be needed.  Lots of them.  And then you’ll need to watch the whole film again pretty much immediately just to assure yourself that Wright really did pull it off.  It’s a magical piece of filmmaking on basically every level, and the perfect proof that (whatever your preference) both books and films ultimately boil down to one truth: it is the power of imagination that holds the key to everything.


As I’m not allowed to give it 6 stars, I’ll just have to agree with Empire…



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